UK-EU talks aim to defuse Brexit tensions over N Ireland

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A woman walks past past graffiti with the words 'No Irish Sea Border' in Belfast city centre, Northern Ireland, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Politicians from Britain, Northern Ireland and the European Union are meeting to defuse post-Brexit trade tensions that have shaken Northern Irelands delicate political balance. British Cabinet minister Michael Gove, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic and the leaders of Northern Irelands Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government will hold a video conference to discuss problems that have erupted barely a month after the U.K. made an economic split from the 27-nation EU. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

LONDON – Senior politicians from Britain, Northern Ireland and the European Union held inconclusive talks Wednesday in a bid to ease post-Brexit trade tensions that have shaken Northern Ireland’s delicate political balance.

British Cabinet minister Michael Gove, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic and the leaders of Northern Ireland’s Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government held a video conference to discuss problems that have erupted barely a month after the U.K. made an economic split from the 27-nation EU. Sefcovic is expected to travel to London next week for more talks.

Northern Ireland authorities halted veterinary checks and withdrew border staff this week from Belfast and Larne ports after threatening graffiti appeared referring to port workers as targets, and staff reported seeing people writing down vehicle license plate numbers.

The border checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. are a contentious product of Brexit.

Since the U.K. left the European Union’s economic structures at the end of 2020, customs and veterinary checks have been imposed on goods moving between Britain and the bloc — and on some British goods going to Northern Ireland, because it shares a border with EU member Ireland.

The checks are strongly opposed by pro-British Unionist politicians, who say they drive a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. They are calling on the British government to rip up a section of its divorce agreement with the EU known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, which gives the region a separate trade status to the rest of the U.K.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which heads the power-sharing Belfast administration, is refusing to cooperate with the Irish government on implementing the new rules.

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, from the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, accused the DUP of stirring up tension with its “reckless” attacks on the Brexit agreement.