Britain, EU making progress on protocol data sharing, Ireland says


BELFAST, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Britain and the European Union have made progress on sharing real-time customs data relating to the Northern Ireland protocol but are "not quite there yet" on an issue that could help end their post-Brexit trade row, Ireland's foreign minister said.

Technical talks resumed in October for the first time in seven months on the protocol, the part of Britain's EU withdrawal agreement that mandated checks on some goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said last month that the satisfactory sharing of data showing which goods moving to Northern Ireland stay there and which potentially travel onto EU-member Ireland could help unlock the wider talks.

"I think if we're going to get a deal here, there has to be real time sharing of data and that has to happen in a way that the UK are comfortable with and in a way that the EU can live with too," Coveney told reporters on Wednesday after a meeting with Britain's Northern Ireland minister Chris Heaton-Harris.

"I think we've made some progress in recent weeks, but we're not quite there yet."

Britain has built a new system to offer the EU real-time customs data relating to Northern Ireland, safety and security declarations and some transit information, to try to ease EU concerns that goods could enter Ireland without paying EU customs.

While reaching a solution on a system that can reassure the EU its single market is protected but also soothes Britain's concerns about handing over data will not end the row over the protocol, it could go some way to easing tensions.

Other issues include the British government's demand that the European Court of Justice should have no role in trade disputes - potentially a more difficult dispute to overcome.

Britain agreed as part of its EU departure to effectively leave Northern Ireland within the bloc's single market for goods to preserve the region's open border with EU member Ireland.

Since then, Britain has sought to scrap many of the checks the deal introduced, which have angered many pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland - though not others in the province who opposed leaving the EU - and created a political stalemate in Belfast.

Brussels has offered to ease some of the trade barriers and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed confidence last week that a deal was within reach if Britain shows the political will to find a solution.

Coveney added on Wednesday that the two negotiating teams have engaged on a lot of detail this week.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper in London, writing by Padraic Halpin, editing by Mark Heinrich

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