Boris Johnson has claimed that Dutch leader Mark Rutte offered to mediate contentious UK-EU talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Johnson told journalists today that Rutte made the offer during the pair’s Downing Street meeting on Friday.
However, Dutch diplomats have disputed the claim and have told the Financial Times that no such offer was made.
The protocol, a part of the Brexit treaty, created a so-called border in the Irish Sea, forcing checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
The UK and EU are still negotiating over the implementation of the protocol, with a number of checks on things like food, parcels and medicines going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland delayed indefinitely.
Johnson has in the past threatened to trigger Article 16 of the protocol, which would suspend the protocol and plunge the UK and EU into a serious conflict.
The UK believes that the EU’s current checks in Northern Ireland are too stringent and are creating political and economic tensions.
Speaking to journalists on his US trip today, Johnson said: “I don’t believe it’s sensible, 20 per cent of all checks in the whole of the perimeter of the EU are now done in Northern Ireland.
“So we do need to sort it out, we need to sort it out fast. I talked to Mark Rutte the other night who wanted to come and see if he could mediate on the issue and I said ‘you know, we really want to make progress’.
“We seek a solution, but it has to be one that allows the free movement of goods between all parts of our country.”
A Dutch diplomat told the FT that Rutte made no such offer and instead said “be pragmatic, don’t escalate and talk to the commission who are negotiating on our behalf”.
The Dutch Prime Minister last week urged Brussels and London to “dial down” the rhetoric over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Rutte said both sides should focus on “practical questions” and avoid “heavy language” in talks.
The protocol sees Northern Ireland follow the EU’s customs union and single market rules, unlike the rest of the UK, to ensure there is not a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
The protocol has caused tensions to flare in unionist communities that feel they are being separated from the rest of the UK, with weeks of violent riots seen in Belfast earlier this year.
The UK wants to redraw the Northern Ireland Protocol to ensure that there are less checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, however Brussels says this is out of the question.
Lord David Frost, the UK’s defacto Brexit minister, said in July that “we cannot go on as we are”.
Brussels says its stringent implementation of checks is to ensure unauthorised goods do not enter its single market and that they are following the protocol to the letter of the law.
Frost’s plan to rewrite the post-Brexit arrangement would see an “honesty box” approach for exporters in Great Britain, which would see them declare if their goods are intended only for sale in Northern Ireland and therefore can skip customs checks.