N.Ireland protocol unlikely to be solved by year end, Coveney says

FILE PHOTO: Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney speaks at the launch of his party's manifesto for the Irish General Election in Dublin, Ireland January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Lorraine O'Sullivan/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he did not expect Britain and the European Union to resolve all the issues around their Northern Irish trade dispute by the end of this year, but said progress was being made.

Speaking at the Foreign Office in London following a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, Coveney said serious gaps remained between the two sides on the Northern Ireland protocol.

"There hasn't been a breakthrough moment in the last number of weeks, but I think there has been a deeper understanding of each other's positions," he said.

"Do I think that all issues can be resolved linked to the protocol by the end of the year? I think that's a very tall order and unlikely to happen."

Britain left the EU last year, but has since put off implementing some of the border checks between its province of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom that the bloc says London is obliged to apply under their divorce deal.

London says the checks are disproportionate and are heightening tensions in Northern Ireland, putting a 1998 peace deal at risk. It has said it could trigger Article 16, an emergency brake on the agreement.

Following months of increased rhetoric, Britain and the EU agreed last month to intensify efforts to solve the problem. Britain's minister for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, said at the same event that London would rather find a solution to the issues but could take unilateral action if needed.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by William James)

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