Michael Gove has said he believes that “pragmatic figures” within the EU are willing to work with the UK Government to resolve difficulties caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was speaking following a meeting of the British Irish Council in Fermanagh, where priorities for Covid-19 recovery were also discussed.
The meeting was hosted by Northern Ireland’s outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster in her home constituency, and included representatives from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
This week European Union officials vowed to use all available measures to ensure the UK respects the terms of its Brexit agreement.
Tensions rose after Brexit Minister Lord Frost refused to rule out the prospect that the UK could unilaterally delay imposing checks on British-made sausages and other chilled meats entering Northern Ireland due to come into force at the end of the month.
But, following the meeting of the British Irish Council, both Mr Gove and Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin were keen to stress that they were hopeful both sides could reach an agreement.
Mr Gove said: “Sometimes when people look at the protocol they think it is all or nothing at all.
“We have resolved some of the challenges that have existed but there are other challenges which do need to be tackled effectively.
“I believe there is a willingness within pragmatic figures within the European Union to make sure that we can make these arrangements work so that they do not impact adversely on the lives of people across communities in Northern Ireland and I know that the Irish Government is using its best endeavours in order to proceed in a pragmatic and constructive way.”
He said: “From our perspective, we believe the mechanisms exist within the Withdrawal Agreement and the protocol to facilitate a working out of these issues.
“There are issues to be refined and resolved and we acknowledge that, but we believe the mechanisms within the framework agreement facilitate that. I think there is opportunity within that framework to resolve this.
“I think discussions should pick up momentum, they did it before prior to the Brexit deal being signed off so, in my view, it is in the capacity of both the UK Government and the European Union to arrive at an agreement here.
“Ireland, as members of the EU, we have appraised people of the sensitivities of all of this, we want to be helpful. I do think there is potential.”
The summit meeting also discussed the impact of Covid-19 and the spread of the Delta variant first identified in India.
The meeting was attended by all of the members of the Northern Ireland Executive, the Irish Taoiseach, Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Mr Gove and Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, representing the UK Government.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and representatives of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey governments attended remotely.