Johnson issues warning to European Union as trade dispute deepens

Boris Johnson escalated his dispute with the European Union by warning he will do whatever it takes to keep goods flowing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Sunday, 13th June 2021, 10:17 am
Updated Sunday, 13th June 2021, 10:35 am

Following talks with the EU’s key figures, the Prime Minister said he would not hesitate to take unilateral action to protect the position of Northern Ireland in the increasingly bitter row over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The Prime Minister met French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel in the margins of the G7 summit in Cornwall.

But Mr Johnson appeared frustrated at the way the talks had gone, saying: “I’ve talked to some of our friends here today who do seem to misunderstand that the UK is a single country and a single territory.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson

“I think they just need to get that into their heads.”

Mr Johnson insisted he did not want a trade war with Brussels, which has threatened to retaliate unless the UK imposes restrictions agreed as part of the Brexit deal signed by Mr Johnson.

The row - dubbed the “sausage war” - could mean chilled meats will not be shipped across the Irish Sea because of EU rules after the end of the month.

The UK is considering extending the current grace period without the consent of Brussels to ensure that sausages and mince can continue to reach Northern Ireland’s shops.

The Prime Minister told Sky News he would do “whatever it takes”, including using Article 16 of the protocol to act without Brussels’ agreement.

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

He suggested the EU was adopting a “theologically draconian” approach to the protocol, which effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods as a way of making sure there is not a hard border with Ireland and preserving the peace process.

That means goods crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain need to be checked to make sure they comply with EU rules.

“I certainly think that the protocol is capable of being used and interpreted - by the way, up to the EU - in a pragmatic way or a theologically draconian way,” Mr Johnson told 5 News.

European Commission chief Mrs von der Leyen said “we want the best possible relations with the UK” but stressed that “both sides must implement what we agreed on” in the Brexit deal.

French sources suggested Mr Macron told the Prime Minister that for relations between France and the UK to be “reset”, Mr Johnson must abide by the agreement.

Meanwhile, the main business of the summit saw the leaders discuss building resilience to future crises, foreign policy issues and the response to Covid-19.

The group committed to a new plan - the Carbis Bay Declaration - to quash future pandemics within the first 100 days, while the UK is creating a new animal vaccine centre aimed at preventing future diseases crossing to humans.

The White House said the leaders had also agreed a Build Back Better World (B3W) plan to help meet the infrastructure need in low and middle-income countries.

The move is a response to China’s “belt and road” initiative, which has increased Beijing’s influence in countries around the world.

A senior US administration official said the Chinese government’s approach had a lack of transparency, poor environmental and labour standards and had left many countries worse off.

“But until now, we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards, and our way of doing business,” the source said.

As part of Mr Johnson’s “Global Britain” agenda, the leaders of South Korea, India, Australia and South Africa were also taking part in summit events, expanding the G7 to take in other prominent democracies.

Those leaders attending the event - India’s Narendra Modi is participating remotely because of the coronavirus crisis in his country - will close the day at a beach barbeque, toasting marshmallows around fire pits while drinking buttered rum and listening to sea shanties.

The RAF’s Red Arrows display team performed a flypast over the Carbis Bay venue where Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie and their one-year-old son Wilfred were seen with G7 leaders.

The Prime Minister was spotted going for an early morning run on the beach before his meetings with the EU leaders on Saturday.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has accused EU leaders of trying to undermine the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.

After talks at the G7 summit in Cornwall between Boris Johnson and key EU figures failed to achieve a breakthrough in the dispute over the implementation of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in Northern Ireland, Mr Raab said the EU was showing a lack of respect.

“What we cannot have is the continuing disruption of trade and effectively try to change the status of Northern Ireland, contrary to the consent and wishes of the people, which is not just contrary to the Northern Ireland Protocol but also to the Belfast Agreement,” he told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme.

“We have serially seen senior EU figures talk about Northern Ireland as if it was some kind of different country to the UK. It is not only offensive, it has real world effects on the communities in Northern Ireland, creates great concern, great consternation.

“Could you imagine if we talked about Catalonia, the Flemish part of Belgium, one of the lander in Germany, northern Italy, Corsica in France as different countries. We need a bit of respect here.”

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