David Hughes, PA Political Editor
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has suggested the European Union is taking an “excessively burdensome” approach to post-Brexit trading arrangements for the North.
Mr Johnson, who signed the Brexit divorce deal which included the Northern Ireland Protocol, insisted he is not trying to back out of the agreement.
But he said the UK’s “internal market” has to be respected and “we just need to make it work”.
The EU has threatened action against Britain if it fails to implement checks on goods entering the North under the terms of the Brexit “divorce” settlement which Mr Johnson signed.
The prospect of a “sausage war” trade dispute came after UK Brexit minister David Frost refused to rule out the possibility that the UK could unilaterally delay imposing checks on British-made chilled meats which are due to come into force at the end of the month.
The Protocol effectively keeps the North in the European single market in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Mr Johnson, who will hold talks with EU leaders over the course of the G7 summit, which begins today in Cornwall, told the BBC: “You will understand that there are ways of enforcing the Protocol, ways of making it work, that may be excessively burdensome.
“I just give you one statistic: 20 per cent of the checks conducted across the whole of the perimeter of the EU are now done in Northern Ireland, three times as many as happen in Rotterdam.”
The new post-Brexit arrangements came into effect on January 1st and the dispute is still simmering, but Mr Johnson insisted “I think we can sort it out”.
US president Joe Biden is taking a close interest in the dispute and has warned against anything that could destabilise the arrangements put in place by the Belfast Agreement.
The Brexit dispute has inflamed tensions for unionists in the North, who belief the Protocol has created an ‘Irish Sea border’, cutting them off from Britain.
The White House has indicated Mr Biden has deep concerns about the situation – and Mr Johnson’s government’s approach to it – but the UK prime minister has played down the prospect of a rift.
“The president didn’t say anything of the kind,” he told the BBC following their talks on Thursday.
“But what I think you can certainly say… is that everybody – and that includes me, includes our friends in Brussels, it includes Washington – everybody has a massive interest in making sure that we keep the essential symmetry of the Good Friday Agreement, we keep the balance.”
At a press conference ahead of the G7 summit, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen insisted the Protocol is the “only solution” to prevent a hard border between the North and Republic and must be implemented in full.
“We have shown flexibility, we will show flexibility, but the Protocol and the (Brexit) Withdrawal Agreement have to be implemented completely,” she said.
French president Emmanuel Macron also warned the Brexit deal cannot be renegotiated.
Ms von der Leyen and Mr Macron flew into Cornwall on Friday morning and will have talks with Mr Johnson over the course of the summit.