The UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, and her Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney, have had a “good and friendly” first meeting over the vexed issued of the Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland, Irish government sources have said.
They met for the first time over dinner in London on Thursday night and discussed the Northern Ireland protocol, the wider relationship with the EU, and UN security matters including the crisis in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
The meeting came less than a month after the Brexit minister David Frost quit and before a first meeting with the European Commission vice-president responsible for Brexit negotiations, Maroš Šefčovič, at the foreign secretary’s grace and favour home, Chevening.
Truss and Coveney had previously met in 2014 when they were both responsible for agriculture but had not seen each other in person since Truss became foreign secretary in the cabinet reshuffle in the autumn.
An Irish government source said: “The minister for foreign affairs and the foreign secretary have previously worked together in the agriculture brief, so it was good to have the opportunity early in the new year to meet in person. They had a good and friendly discussion on all matters in their current brief, including Brexit in Northern Ireland, as well as matters of the UN security council.”
While the meeting was described as “good”, UK sources say Truss would not be dropping demands for further compromises from the EU on the Brexit protocol in Northern Ireland.
The UK is seeking a radical reduction in trade barriers affecting consumers and businesses amid continuing threats by the Democratic Unionist party to leave the Stormont assembly unless the current protocol is torn up.
The UK is also maintaining Lord Frost’s call for changes to the rules of state aid and governance and dispute resolution, removing the European court of justice as the sole arbiter in the event of trade disputes.
While Truss has said she wanted a “comprehensive solution”, many have seen her appointment as a reset moment with expectations of fresh impetus to be forged at her meeting with Šefčovic next week.
The UK has accepted that a two-stage solution may break the nine-month impasse, with a deal of customs paperwork and physical checks struck by the end of February to avoid a crisis before the Stormont elections in May.
Under this scenario, the trickier governance issues would be pushed back to the second half of 2022, when political tensions over Brexit would have subsided in Northern Ireland and France would no longer hold the presidency of the European Council.
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