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EU urged to be ‘pragmatic, not bloody-minded’ over Brexit dispute

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made the call as Boris Johnson met leaders from the bloc in Cornwall.

Updated Jun 12th 2021, 2:05 PM

2.60314927 Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets French President Emmanuel Macron at the G7 summit. Source: PA Images

THE EUROPEAN UNION has been urged to back down in a dispute with the UK over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Boris Johnson was holding talks with the EU’s key players today as the dispute threatened to overshadow his hosting of the G7 summit.

Johnson was meeting European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, European Council head Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the margins of the gathering in Cornwall.

Johnson has warned Brussels he will not hesitate to take unilateral measures to protect the position of Northern Ireland in the increasingly bitter row over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

While Downing Street characterised the discussions as “constructive”, Johnson complained that some of the leaders failed to understand the UK is a single country.

“I just need to get that into their heads,” he said.

He warned that unless there was a solution he would invoke Article 16 of the protocol which allows either side to take unilateral action if its implementation were to lead to “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.

His comments followed a series of talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council leader Charles Michel.

The Prime Minister told Sky News: “I think we can sort it out but… it is up to our EU friends and partners to understand that we will do whatever it takes.

“I think if the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16, as I have said before.

“Don’t forget, the EU themselves invoked Article 16 in January, to disapply the protocol, so they can stop removal of vaccines from the EU to the UK.

“I’ve talked to some of our friends here today, who do seem to misunderstand that the UK is a single country, a single territory. I just need to get that into their heads.”

Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged the EU to take a more “pragmatic” approach to the Northern Ireland issue.

The main summit agenda will see the leaders of the UK, the US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Italy commit to a new plan aimed at preventing a repeat of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Johnson also faces a potentially tricky series of meetings with the EU’s senior representatives.

Downing Street has indicated the UK would be prepared to unilaterally delay the full implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent a ban on chilled meats crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.

Restrictions on British-produced chilled meats entering Northern Ireland are due to come into force at the end of the month.

Delaying the checks without Brussels’ agreement risks triggering a “sausage war” trade dispute, with the EU threatening to respond to any breach of the deal signed by Johnson.

Johnson has suggested the EU is taking an “excessively burdensome” approach to post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.

2.60315635 EU Council president Charles Michel, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Source: PA Images

Raab told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “They can be more pragmatic about the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol in a way that is win-win or they can be bloody-minded and purist about it, in which case I am afraid we will not allow the integrity of the UK to be threatened.”

During the meeting in Cornwall, Macron reportedly told the Prime Minister the UK-France relationship could only be “reset” if Johnson stood by the Brexit deal, according to French sources.

The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market to avoid a hard border with Ireland, meaning a trade barrier in the Irish Sea for goods crossing from Great Britain.

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Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters in Cornwall the immediate priority was to find “radical and urgent solutions within the protocol”.

But “we keep all options on the table”, he added, indicating the possibility of a unilateral extension of a grace period to allow sausages to continue to be shipped across the Irish Sea.

Downing Street played down expectations of Johnson finding a resolution to the impasse at the Carbis Bay summit.

The spokesman suggested the meeting was “not the forum in which he is necessarily seeking to come up with an immediate solution”.

At a press conference ahead of the G7 summit, von der Leyen insisted the protocol is the “only solution” to prevent a hard border with the Republic and must be implemented in full.

Macron also warned the Brexit deal cannot be renegotiated.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin meanwhile welcomed the intervention of US president Joe Biden this week in the row over the North’s Brexit arrangements. 

Speaking today on Newstalk Breakfast, Martin said that “the intervention from Joe Biden is significant – but it makes sense from the American perspective”. He also said, from his perspective, the US intervention involves a lot of common sense.

The Taoiseach said it’s important for countries with similar values to be aligned and so the EU-US relationship is very important regarding restoring that transatlantic relationship. However, the UK need to also be aligned in that restoration.  

Speaking to reporters at an event in Dublin, Martin said: “I think it is significant in the context of the message from President Biden and his administration that the sensible thing to do is to have alignment between the UK and the EU and the US – we all share common values as democracies.

“I think he’s saying ‘let’s do the sensible thing here’.”

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