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UK's Johnson seeks to quell Brexit fears in Northern Ireland

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted Thursday that businesses in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy seamless access to the rest of the U.K. after a Brexit transition period with the European Union expires at the end of the year.

“There will be no border down the Irish Sea — over my dead body," he said on a visit to Northern Ireland, where he met the new Irish prime minister, Micheal Martin. Following the U.K.'s departure from the EU at the end of January, the country is in a transition period with the bloc during which it remains part of its economic arrangements, including the tariff-free single market and customs union.

Though discussions about the future economic relationship are still taking place, Northern Ireland has a special status in the talks — deal or no deal. Under the Northern Ireland protocol, negotiated as part of last year's Brexit deal, the region will follow some of the EU’s rules to allow freedom of movement of goods and services across the border with Ireland, which remains part of the EU.

Business leaders in Northern Ireland have expressed concerns that the rules and regulations associated with that requirement will make trading with the rest of the U.K. more expensive, even prohibitive.

The next round of talks about the future relationship are set to commence in Brussels on Aug. 18. Johnson's main negotiator, David Frost, said in a tweet that the U.K. side will go into those talks “in good faith to talk constructively about all the issues," and that an agreement can be reached in September.

Johnson's Irish counterpart, Martin, said both the EU and the U.K. want to avoid another economic shock following the coronavirus pandemic. “I think where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said. “It seems to me that there is a landing zone if that will is there on both sides and I think it is, on the European Union side and on the British side to find that landing zone."

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