‘Good’ call between Cleverly and Sefcovic amid ongoing protocol row

UK and EU officials will “meet soon” following a call on Friday between the Foreign Secretary and the EC’s Maros Sefcovic to discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Foreign Secretary had his first call with the European Commission vice president, amid an ongoing row over post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland.

Talks have stalled in recent months and relations between London and Brussels remain at a low ebb, after the Government angered the EU with plans to rip up swathes of the protocol in a bid to address the concerns of unionists in Northern Ireland.

In a tweet following the call, Mr Sefcovic said that “teams will meet soon”, raising hopes in some quarters for progress in talks between the two sides.

Mr Sefcovic called it a “good conversation”, adding: “Both sides agree to look for solutions around the Protocol, to bring predictability & certainty to people in Northern Ireland.”

He said that the EU is “committed to joint efforts”, adding: “Teams will meet soon. James & I will stay in contact.”

Mr Cleverly, who has only been in the role a matter of weeks, offered similarly warm words after the call, which is understood to have included discussions about both the protocol and other issues.

Another call between them could be held again in a couple of weeks.

“Good to speak to Maros Sefcovic today on important shared issues including the Northern Ireland Protocol,” the foreign secretary said.

“We agreed we want to look for solutions to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. We will speak again soon.”

The protocol, signed by former prime minister Boris Johnson’s government, effectively keeps Northern Ireland aligned with many EU single market rules to avoid a hard border with Ireland, therefore requiring some checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.

Despite elections in May, there is currently no sitting powersharing executive in Northern Ireland, after the DUP withdrew its first minister from the governing executive in protest in February at the economic border created in the Irish Sea by the protocol.

It was Prime Minister Liz Truss as foreign secretary who introduced legislation which effectively tears up parts of the agreement, worsening relations with the EU.

Both sides have said a negotiated outcome is the preferred option amid hopes that some form of compromise can be reached.

In an interview with BBC Northern Ireland on Thursday, Ms Truss said that the Government remains open to a “negotiated settlement”, but said the situation cannot be allowed to “drift”.

Irish premier Micheal Martin said that he believes there is a “genuine willingness” on all sides to resolve the dispute around the Northern Ireland protocol.

“I think there is genuine willingness to make every effort to resolve this issue by negotiation,” the Taoiseach told reporters at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis in Dublin.

“That said it will be difficult.

“I think what is important is that a process is entered in to that will facilitate in negotiated resolution for the issue.”