European Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič has hailed a “changing tone” in negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol.
Following weeks of angry tweets and briefings from individuals on both sides, Mr Šefčovič said he was optimistic that further progress could be made in the coming days:
“We need to make serious headway in the course of next week.
"This is particularly important as regards the issue of medicines. I stand by my commitment to do whatever it takes to address this issue in line with what industry tells us."
Supply of medicines
Under the terms of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland follows EU pharmaceutical rules and, after the end of a grace period, there will be checks on medicines being imported from Great Britain to the province.
This has caused concern for a number of firms, some of whom have said they plan to stop supplying customers in Northern Ireland.
Britain’s negotiator, Lord Frost, has previously said that if a satisfactory agreement is not reached, then London would invoke Article 16 - a mechanism in the Withdrawal Agreement that allows either side to suspend aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol if there is “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade”.
Earlier in the week, Lord Frost urged the EU to “stay calm and keep things in proportion”, telling the House of Lords:
“Although we have been talking for nearly four weeks, there remain possibilities that the talks have not yet seriously examined, including many approaches suggested by the UK.
“So there is more to do and I certainly will not give up on this process unless and until it is abundantly clear that nothing more can be done.”
Frost’s approach has the support of DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who said: "It is essential that either the [British] Government gets agreement with the EU, and in the absence of such an agreement that it does move to trigger Article 16."
Trade deal at risk
However, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said if Article 16 is invoked then the EU might scrap the trade agreement entirely:
"One is contingent on the other," Mr Coveney said.
"So that if one is being set aside, there is a danger that the other will also be set aside by the EU."
A poll carried out last month suggested that the majority of voters in Northern Ireland support the protocol; 52% said they thought it “a good thing” on balance, while 53% opposed the British Government triggering Article 16.
Main image: The British and EU flags hang side by side. Picture by: PA.