Discussions between the EU and UK over Northern Ireland’s trade rules will “likely” continue next year, the European Commission‘s Brexit official said on Tuesday.
Maroš Šefčovič told POLITICO in an interview he was “probably too ambitious” when he previously said discussions on customs and food controls or the role of the European Union Court of Justice could be concluded before Christmas.
“I think if there was a clear political will on the part of the UK these issues could be resolved,” he said. “But looking at how far we’ve come in the last four weeks, the level of detail that our UK partners want to discuss, I know we probably won’t be able to resolve everything before the end of the year.”
The two sides have been at odds for months on how to control trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK but remains within the EU’s single market under the Brexit withdrawal agreement reached by both parties in 2019.
Šefčovič stressed that he hoped the UK and the EU could still make “decisive progress this week” on the issue of trade in medicines between Britain and Northern Ireland, which “would generate a positive momentum “for the remainder of the talks.
Medicines are an urgent issue as the grace period for border controls and regulatory approvals for medicines expire at the end of the year. Although the UK has decided to unilaterally extend this grace period, there is a risk of uncertainty and disruption to the drug trade if the two sides fail to reach an agreement by the end of January.
However, Šefčovič warned that the de facto deadline for reaching a deal was in fact this week, as the EU will need a few weeks to implement any potential solution.
He said the Commission is “very likely” to launch the necessary internal approval procedures by next week, suggesting that the window of opportunity to strike a drug deal is likely to close this week.
Šefčovič said he will travel to London on Thursday to meet with UK Brexit Minister David Frost for talks on Friday.