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Maros Sefcovic due to visit north this week as protocol negotiations ramp up

European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic. Picture by AP Photo/Francisco Seco

MAROS Sefcovic is to visit Northern Ireland later this week ahead of an expected intensification of negotiations around the Irish Sea border over the coming weeks.

The European Commission vice-president will spend Thursday and Friday meeting political leaders and representatives of business and civil society.

It is understood he plans to hold a roundtable meeting with Stormont's leaders.

Mr Sefcovic briefed MLAs on the Northern Ireland Protocol remotely in June in what was his first ever engagement with a parliamentary committee, either at Westminster or among the devolved administrations.

His latest visit comes as the clock ticks down to the ending of the grace period on chilled meats at the beginning of next month.

British Brexit Minister Lord Frost has called for Brussels to accept a "substantial and significant change" to the deal agreed with the EU and ratified by Westminster last year.

Mr Sefcovic said in July that the EU was "ready to continue to seek creative solutions" to issues around the post-Brexit trade arrangements but stressed there would be no renegotiation.

A spokesperson for the commission vice-president confirmed to The Irish News that Mr Sefcovic would visit the north this week for a number of meetings.

The spokesperson said the aim of the trip was to listen to opinion on the protocol and discuss its implementation.

More details about the visit are expected to emerge today.

SDLP Brexit spokesperson Matthew O’Toole welcomed Mr Sefcovic visit, which he said underlined the EU's commitment to "protecting Northern Ireland from the effects of Brexit".

"Though there has been much exaggeration and distortion of the effects of the protocol, there are specific issues around implementation we want to see resolved constructively between the UK and EU," he said.

"Unilateral action by the UK is not the way to proceed, and will only create further uncertainty and instability for businesses and consumers – brinkmanship and confrontation is in no one’s interests."

The South Belfast MLA said those "shouting loudest about the iniquities of the protocol" were the same parties who "helped deliver the hardest possible Brexit".

"They should be focussed now on resolving outstanding issues – and critically, we all need to be alive to the very real economic opportunities the protocol is already bringing," he said.

"Exports from Northern Ireland to the Republic and wider EU have already risen sharply, and we are the only place on the planet with unfettered access into both British and European single markets."

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