TALKS between the EU and UK on the Northern Ireland Protocol will “probably” continue into next year, Maros Sefcovic has said.

The EU’s lead Brexit negotiator said that he had been “probably too ambitious” when stating that discussions over goods checks and the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) could be wrapped up before Christmas.

Last week, European Commission vice-president Sefcovic warned there would be “serious consequences” if the UK triggers Article 16 of the protocol.

The UK’s Brexit minister, Lord Frost, has kept the option of triggering the safeguard mechanism in the deal on the table, maintaining that it is a “very real option”.

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Last week Frost and Sefcovic met for a fifth round of talks on how to police trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, which has remained within the EU’s single market under the Brexit Withdrawal agreement.

And now, speaking to Politico, Sefcovic said that the talks were currently stalled.

He said: "I think that if there was the clear political will from the U.K. side these ... problems could be solved.

"But looking at how far we progressed over the last four weeks, the level of detail our UK partners want to discuss, I know that we will probably not be able to resolve everything before the end of the year."

The National:

Lord Frost (front left) and Maros Sefcovic (front right) are due to meet for a sixth round of talks

Sefcovic stressed he was hoping the EU and UK could make “decisive progress this week” on the issues of medicines trade between Northern Ireland and Britain.

He added that this would “generate positive momentum” for the rest of the talks.

As a grace period for border checks and regulatory approvals for drugs expires at the end of the year, medicines have become a pressing issue.

The UK unilaterally extended the grace period, but there is a risk of trade disturbance for medicines if both sides don’t reach a deal by the end of January.

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However, Sefcovic warned that the deadline for reaching a deal was actually this week, as the EU would need a few weeks to implement any potential solution.

He explained that the Commission would “most probably” have to launch the necessary internal approval procedures next week, and signalled there was a limited window to make a deal by the end of this week.

Sefcovic is due to travel to London this week to meet with Frost for the sixth round of talks on Friday.

The National:

We previously told how Sefcovic warned that if the UK triggers Article 16 it will have a serious impact on Northern Ireland and damage the UK’s relationship with the EU.

He also said the EU will consider all of the tools at the disposal if the mechanism is used whilst addressing Irish politicians during a select committee.

And, Sefcovic said earlier this month that new measures on the Brexit Protocol will create an “express line” on trade between Northern Ireland and Britain, resulting in a “win-win situation” for all.