* Previous guidance for normal flows was early January
* All restrictions of flows have now been lifted (Adds details, background)
LONDON, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Britain's biggest and most important oil and gas pipeline Forties should resume normal flows around the new year, slightly earlier than previously flagged, its operator Ineos said on Thursday.
Ineos had previously expected the pipeline, which suffered a rare unplanned shutdown because of a crack, to resume normal operations in early January.
The closure since Dec. 11 of the pipeline, which normally pumps about 450,000 barrels per day, and supply disruptions in Libya have helped push oil prices above $67 a barrel, their highest since mid-2015.
Forties plays an important role in the global market as it is the biggest of the five North Sea crude streams underpinning Brent, a benchmark used for oil trading in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
The system also carries a third of Britain's offshore natural gas output.
"All restrictions on the flow of oil and gas from platforms feeding into the pipeline system have been fully lifted. All customers and control rooms have now been informed," Ineos said in a statement.
"Based on current estimates the company expects to bring the pipeline and Kinneil (oil plant) progressively back to normal rates around new year," it added.
Ineos was forced to declare force majeure on deliveries of Forties crude oil, natural gas and condensate, suspending its contractual obligations to customers by citing circumstances beyond its control.
This is believed to be the first force majeure on a major North Sea production stream in decades. Ineos didn't say when it expected to lift the force majeure.
In a sign of normality returning, an export schedule of Forties crude oil cargoes in February was sent out to cargo owners on Wednesday, although the number of shipments is much lower than normal.
Just six Forties cargoes of 600,000 barrels each are listed in February's export schedule, down from 20 originally planned in January, trade sources said on Wednesday.
The first cargo in February's program loads on Feb. 19, one of the sources said. The February schedule is short because of the need to load shipments delayed by the pipeline shutdown, this source added.
Ineos, a privately-owned chemicals company based in Switzerland, bought the pipeline system from BP in late October. (Reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Mark Potter)