The controversial Northern Ireland Protocol in the Brexit divorce deal remains the only way to prevent the return of a hard border with the Republic, Brussels has claimed.
Late-night talks between EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and Brexit Minister Lord Frost aimed at resolving differences over the Protocol broke up without an agreement.
In a statement, a UK Government spokesman said that while there had been “some positive momentum”, a number of “difficult issues” remain to be resolved.
Both sides agreed there should be further “intensified contacts” in the coming weeks.
An EU Commission statement said: “The vice-president reiterated the EU’s commitment to the protocol, which is the only way to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and to preserve peace and stability, while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU single market.
“Only joint solutions, agreed in the joint bodies established by the Withdrawal Agreement, can provide the stability and predictability that is needed in Northern Ireland.”
The Protocol creates an Irish Sea trade border, which has enraged Unionists who fear it drives a wedge between Northern Ireland and Britain.
It has been blamed for fuelling recent violence in the province, which left 88 police officers injured.
But it is aimed at prevent a hard border along Northern Ireland’s 310-mile frontier with the Republic – the UK’s only land border with the EU.
The Commission statement added that Mr Sefcovic “insisted on mutually agreed paths towards full compliance with the Protocol”, which must be “fully implemented for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland, while upholding the integrity of the EU’s Single Market”.
But Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Lord Nigel Dodds said: “As the Protocol continues to wreak havoc on east-west trading relationships and does real damage to the set of political agreements on Northern Ireland, clear and decisive action is required to replace these arrangements.
“Permanent solutions to these fundamental and far-reaching problems are needed and needed quickly.
“It is clear from these remarks that the EU is simply focused on protecting its own interests rather than securing long-term answers which benefit communities and businesses across our Province.
“Maros Sefcovic believes solutions can only be found through ‘full implementation’ and ‘full compliance’ with the Protocol.
“This belongs in the realm of fantasy, not political reality and negotiation.”