UK's Cleverly: Work is moving fast on Northern Ireland protocol

FILE PHOTO: British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly speaks to members of the press in London

By Alistair Smout and Thomas Escritt

LONDON (Reuters) -Work is moving "pretty fast" to resolve outstanding issues with the EU on the agreement which governs post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Thursday following a meeting with his German counterpart.

That sentiment echoed the words of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak who took office in October and who said in December he was hopeful of reaching a resolution to the long-running dispute.

Technical talks resumed in October for the first time in seven months on the Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the Brexit deal that mandated checks on some goods moving to the province from the rest of the United Kingdom.

"We are moving pretty fast and doing a huge amount of good work," Cleverly said at a news conference. "We very, very much welcome the ... much more constructive tone in the conversations that we've had between the UK and the (European) Commission."

Germany's Annalena Baerbock said the European Union was prepared to be flexible on the issue.

"The latest talks between the EU and the United Kingdom had a very positive tone," she added. "And it's important that this confidence leads to substantive progress so there is at last a solution that supports peace for people there."

Asked if he was hopeful of reaching a deal before the 25th anniversary of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace deal in early April, Cleverly said they were working on the issue with speed and were "not going to wait for an anniversary".

"There is definitely, definitely desire in the UK and across the EU to get a resolution on this," he said.

In order to preserve the peace deal and avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, Britain agreed as part of its departure from the EU to effectively leave Northern Ireland within the bloc's single market for goods.

That has necessitated checks from January 2021 on some goods coming from the rest of the United Kingdom.

But the British government sought to ease many of the trade barriers ever since the protocol came into effect, leading to accusations from the EU it was trying to backtrack on the protocol.

Baerbock, who often talks nostalgically of her student years in the British capital, likened the "bitter" experience of Brexit to "losing a family member", but said it was time to move on.

"We must leave the wounds of the past behind and build a good common future," she said. "Or, as we used to sing in clubs at Christmas during my student years: 'Don't look back in anger,'" she said, quoting British rock group Oasis's anthem.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar in London and Thomas Escritt in BerlinWriting by Kylie MacLellanEditing by William James and Frances Kerry)