The European Union is being “excessively burdensome” by enforcing trade checks included in the Northern Ireland Brexit deal, Boris Johnson has claimed.
In an interview at the G7 summit in Cornwall the prime minister insisted he was not trying to back out of the deal he had negotiated and signed just over a year ago.
It comes after the EU hinted on Thursday that trade sanctions are a possibility if the UK fails to stand by what it signed.
Mr Johnson’s own Brexit chief Lord Frost has said the UK could take further unilateral action to ignore parts of the deal, including refusing to impose checks on processed meats due to come into force at the end of the month.
Britain has already extended grace periods included in the accord, effectively overriding parts of the deal to suit British businesses.
The prime minister 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.”
Mr Johnson insisted: “I think we can sort it out”.
The EU’s insistence on checks and export prohibitions on processed meats for food safety reasons will come as little surprise to the UK, as Mr Johnson signed a unilateral declaration saying the UK understood there would be exactly that.
But Lord Frost admitted last weekend that the Northern Ireland protocol had been more damaging to businesses in the territory than UK negotiators had expected.
Businesses and the loyalist community have expressed varying degrees of concern and anger over the new arrangements, which effectively keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs territory and single market, and have disrupted supply.
The approach, put in place to avoid the need for a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, effectively puts a customs border down the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. As a result of the new bureacracy created by Mr Johnson’s deal, some suppliers have simply stopped doing business in Northern Ireland.
US president Joe Biden was reportedly set to warn Mr Johnson about the UK’s approach at the G7 summit, having previously expressed concern about the British approach. Mr Biden, who has Irish heritage, has taken an interest the Northern Ireland border issue, following his predecessor Bill Clinton’s role in finalising the Good Friday Agreement.
But Mr Johnson downplayed Mr Biden’s concerns, stating after their meeting: “The president didn’t say anything of the kind”.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Mr Johnson was eager to raise the protocol with the president so he could be “very clear on our position”. Mr Raab told Sky News the Prime Minister wanted “a flexible, pragmatic approach”.
“But for that to happen the EU must be less purist, more pragmatic and more flexible in the implementation of it. The ball is very much in the EU’s court in relation to that,” the Foreign Secretary said.
“The bottom line for us is that the threat, the risk, to the Good Friday Agreement comes from the approach the EU has taken – a particularly purist approach.”
Even outside Northern Ireland, the new Brexit status quo appears to be suppressing trade with the EU in general. Figures released today show trade between the UK and EU is down 25 per cent over the first four months of 2021 compared to 2019 – with the fall 21 per cent greater than for non-EU countries.