Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney says an agreement between the UK and the European Union regarding the Irish border dispute is unlikely before the end of this year.
Speaking at the Foreign Office in London following a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on Thursday, Coveney stressed that serious gaps are remaining between the two sides on the Northern Ireland (NI) protocol, over which there has been no breakthrough.
“There hasn't been a breakthrough moment in the last number of weeks, but I think there has been a deeper understanding of each other's positions,” Coveney said.
“Do I think that all issues can be resolved linked to the protocol by the end of the year? I think that's a very tall order and unlikely to happen,” he added.
The ‘NI protocol’ was agreed as part of the Brexit deal to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
According to the protocol, Northern Ireland remains in the EU’s single market for goods as well as in the UK's market, creating a trade border between Northern Ireland and the UK, which requires transiting goods to be checked and controlled.
The EU has proposed measures to ease those checks, but the UK is demanding fundamental reforms and has repeatedly threatened to suspend the NI protocol using Article 16 of the trade deal.
Article 16, which addresses emergency provisions, allows both the UK and the EU to suspend any part of the agreement that causes “economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade.”
EU and UK representatives have held several meetings to talk about the issue but there hasn’t been any progress. Fears are growing that triggering Article 16 will potentially rupture the UK’s already strained relations with the EU.