'Significant differences' remain over NI Protocol despite renewed UK/EU talks

European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic has spoken on the phone to Brexit minister Lord Frost. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

DESPITE renewed talks between the British government and EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol there are "still significant differences", according to Downing Street.

Anger at post-Brexit trading arrangements which have created an Irish Sea border have been cited as contributing to week-long loyalist violence across the north.

The rioting was ostensibly sparked by outrage that PSNI actions around the organisation of Bobby Storey's funeral during lockdown restrictions led in part to a decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein members, including Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.

However, there has been growing anger among unionists over the new constraints on trade between Northern Ireland and Britain.

The Northern Ireland Protocol, designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, has resulted in additional checks on goods flowing across the Irish Sea to ensure they comply with EU rules.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and British Brexit minister Lord Frost spoke on the phone on Friday, the same day some loyalist protests were called off as a mark of respect following the death of Prince Philip.

But Number 10 has warned major hurdles remain before issues around the implementation of the protocol are resolved.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's official spokesman said "technical engagement with the EU in relation to the protocol has continued in recent days".

"(Maros) Sefcovic and Lord Frost spoke on Friday over the phone and we are in regular contact at all levels.

"The discussions have been constructive but there are still significant differences that need to be resolved.

"Both the EU and the UK are engaging with business, civil society and other stakeholders in Northern Ireland to understand the issues that they are facing."

He said the British government is committed to working through the issues to "restore confidence on the ground" in Northern Ireland, respecting the views of the communities and the Good Friday Agreement.

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