Crunch talks to prevent a ‘sausage war’ with the EU over Northern Ireland trade rules broke up without agreement today as Brexit Minister Lord Frost accused Brussels of acting in an ‘extremely purist way’
He met EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic in London today in an attempt to avoid an escalation of tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol he agreed as part of the Brexit deal that came into force in January.
Reports yesterday suggested Britain is ready to act unilaterally to delay imposition of checks on chilled meats such as sausages and chicken nuggets coming to Northern Ireland from Great Britain when the current ‘grace period’ expires at the end of June.
This has sparked anger in Brussels and Mr Sefcovic raised the prospect of a trade war – with Brussels imposing tariffs and quotas on British exports – if the UK failed to meet its international obligations under the the protocol.
After their meeting in London this morning, Lord Frost said there had been ‘no breakthroughs’ with the EU on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, including over sausages and chilled meats, after ‘frank and honest’ discussions.
He told reporters: ‘What the EU is insisting on is we should operate the protocol in an extremely purist way. The reality is that it’s a very balanced document that’s designed to support the peace process and deal with the very sensitive politics in Northern Ireland.’
European Commission vice-president Mr Sefcovic said that patience in the EU is ‘wearing very, very thin’ and that Brussels was considering ‘all options we have at our disposal’.
It came as it emerged that Lord Frost will accompany Boris Johnson to the G7 summit in Cornwall this week to avoid a Brexit ambush by the EU.
Lord Frost met EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic in London today in an attempt to avoid an escalation of tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol he agreed as part of the Brexit deal that came into force in January
Boris Johnson will take Lord Frost to the G7 summit in Cornwall this week to avoid a Brexit ambush by the EU, it was claimed today. Lord Frost is pictured today in London with EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic
The PM is said to have invited the Brexit minister to attend amid growing concerns a row over the Northern Ireland Protocol will dominate the meeting of world leaders.
The PM is said to have invited the Brexit Minister to attend amid growing concerns a row over the Northern Ireland Protocol will overshadow the meeting of world leaders.
His attendance, first reported by Bloomberg, will be seen as an attempt to counter expected Brexit criticism from French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Mr Johnson is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden at the G7 summit.
The Times reported earlier this week that Mr Biden will warn Mr Johnson not renege on the terms of the Brexit trade deal he agreed with the EU.
US politicians have repeatedly warned that the row between Britain and Brussels over the protocol could derail a future trade deal between London and Washington.
Lord Frost’s presence at the summit would enable Mr Johnson to lean on his Brexit supremo in crunch meetings and to hit back in detail at any claims made by EU figures.
The growing risk of the Brexit row being dragged into the G7 summit was highlighted last night after a phone call between Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen.
The President of the European Commission tweeted after the call that she had expressed her ‘deep concern’ over the implementation of the trade deal and said ‘we will discuss how to progress and ensure compliance in margins of G7’.
The agreement – intended to ensure there is no return to a hard border with the Republic – means that Northern Ireland remains part of the EU single market, which in turn requires checks on some goods coming from Great Britain.
Mr Johnson is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden at the G7 summit. Mr Biden will reportedly warn the PM not to renege on the Brexit deal with the EU
At a press conference this afternoon, European Commission vice president Mr Sefcovic said that the UK agreed that the Northern Ireland Protocol was the ‘best solution’.
‘Turning to the protocol on Ireland, Northern Ireland, the EU repeated today its unwavering commitment to the Good Friday Belfast Agreement,’ he told a press conference in London.
‘For this, the protocol needs to be implemented. The UK agreed to the protocol as being the best solution.
‘After four years of intensive negotiations to address the unique situation on the island of Ireland, and the challenges created by Brexit and the UK’s choice to leave the EU single market and customs union.
‘The EU and the UK agreed that the protocol was the only way to protect the Good Friday Belfast Agreement in all its parts.’
The British Government said after today’s talks it remained concerned there had been no ‘substantive progress’ in a number of areas in talks with the EU on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
In a statement following the meeting between Lord Frost and Maros Sefcovic, the Government said: ‘The UK made clear its continued commitment to constructive engagement in order to find pragmatic solutions that ensure the Protocol operates in a way that safeguards the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions, minimises its impact on the day-to-day lives of communities in Northern Ireland, and maintains the integrity of the EU’s Single Market.
‘The UK will continue to put forward detailed proposals, as we have throughout this year, and looks forward to discussing any proposals the EU may put forward.
‘There is an urgent need for further discussions in order to make real progress, particularly to avoid disruption to critical supplies such as medicines.’
Earlier, Downing Street insisted there could be no justification for preventing chilled meats from the rest of the UK being sold in Northern Irish shops, while Environment Secretary George Eustice said the suggestion was ‘bonkers’.