Boris Johnson has brushed off talk of an impending crisis with the EU and Northern Ireland, saying he is “not worried” it will overshadow this weekend’s G7 summit in Cornwall and believes a solution is “easily doable”’
As world leaders arrive in the UK, the EU said its patience is “wearing very, very thin” in negotiations to try and resolve critical issues around the Northern Ireland protocol. The UK has indicated it is considering unilateral action, in contravention of the last minute Brexit trade deal that was agreed and signed amid much fanfare in December 2019.
Maroš Šefčovič, the vice-president of the European commission, said the bloc’s relationship with the UK is “at a crossroads” following two hours of talks with Brexit minister Lord David Frost on post-Brexit trade between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Sausage war looms
Frost said there has been “no breakthroughs” in the talks, but no “breakdowns” either while Šefčovič is insistent the UK undertakes checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain, as agreed in the deal.
Šefčovič said that while he is “positive we can find a solution” he added: “Our patience really is wearing very, very thin, and therefore we have to assess all options we have at our disposal.”
A so-called “sausage war” is imminent with chilled meats from Britain set to be banned from export to Northern Ireland. Frozen sausages and other meats can still be traded.
A six month post-Brexit “grace” period for businesses and traders expires on June 30 although the UK has already acted unilaterally to delay full checks on other goods requiring inspection.
“If the UK were to take further unilateral action in the coming weeks the EU will not be shy in acting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure the UK abides by its international obligations,” said Šefčovič indicating legal action, arbitration and retaliatory trade measures are among possible actions.
Biden’s ‘very deep’ concerns
Joe Biden – who arrived in the UK on Wednesday for the G7 summit – has reasserted his “deep” concerns that the issue will impact the Good Friday Agreement and threaten peace in Northern Ireland.
The US president is set to have a meeting with the prime minister on Thursday (June 10), and Johnson said on Wednesday that the purpose of the Northern Ireland protocol is to “uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, to make sure that we keep the balance in relationships in Northern Ireland”.
The prime minister is confident about getting a deal that “protects the peace process, but also guarantees the economic and territorial integrity of the whole United Kingdom”.
It is widely reported that Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan has “warned” that “the president harbours ‘very deep’ concerns on the issue provoked by Brexit” and the NI protocol is “critical” to protecting the GFA.
Sullivan told the BBC that “whatever way they find to proceed must “fundamentally protect the gains” of the GFA “and not imperil that.”
Johnson said: “I’m very, very optimistic about this [resolving the NI protocol]. I think that’s easily doable”.