The EU will not renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol but it is working intensively to find solutions, the bloc’s Brexit negotiator said Thursday.
Maros Sefkovic, the EU Commission’s vice president, said the EU officials continue to work to find practical solutions to make the protocol "work on the ground" but they will not accept any solutions that would cut Northern Ireland off from the single market and its benefits.
Speaking in a seminar in the Irish capital Dublin, Sefkovic said the package of measures to be finalized on the protocol will be "far-reaching proposals" and he hoped that the UK side would see it as such.
He said talks in intensive manner continued with the UK officials to find solutions to certain practical difficulties, adding that both sides were in “permanent touch.”
The UK’s Brexit minister earlier this week warned the block about the protocol, pointing to some changes needed and saying the UK “cannot wait forever.”
Sefkovic said he hoped to make "clear headway" on the issues "by the end of the year."
Responding to a question about the UK threats to trigger Article 16 – an article that may lead to safeguards in case the protocol is leading to serious "economic, societal, or environmental difficulties" that are liable to persist – Sefkovic said, adding that he hoped "we would not go down that road."
However, he noted that if Article 16 was triggered, the bloc "will not hesitate to use all options available."
The Northern Ireland Protocol necessitates border checks on any animal and plant-based products, including frozen meat and processed meat products before their transport to Northern Ireland, which is aligned with the EU rules and regulations.
The protocol creates a de facto trade border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The UK left the bloc on Jan. 31, 2020 as a result of a 2016 referendum that ended the country’s more than 40-year-long membership to the European club.
The agreement signed by the sides included the Northern Ireland Protocol, which practically avoided a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland saw sporadic street protests by loyalist groups who reject the protocol and any checks on goods coming from the other parts of the UK earlier this year.
Dozens of police officers were injured, a public bus and cars were burnt down during the rallies.
The Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson last month outlined his willingness to bring down the Stormont (Northern Ireland Assembly) if the protocol is not changed substantially.