The UK and EU are still deadlocked on negotiations about the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, after a four-hour meeting in London today.
Boris Johnson’s UK-EU minister Lord David Frost said there had been “no breakthroughs” in his meeting with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic as both sides escalate an ongoing war of words.
Sefcovic said talks were at a “crossroads” as pressure mounts to get a deal done to avoid a potential trade war or increasing unionist anger in Northern Ireland.
Johnson’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement sees Northern Ireland still follow the EU’s customs union and single market rules, while the rest of the UK does not, to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland.
The current talks are over how to manage the post-Brexit flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland without creating disruption for businesses.
The UK is calling for the EU to take a less bureaucratic interpretation of the Northern Ireland Protocol to ensure the free flow of goods within the UK, while Brussels is concerned about goods entering its single market without meeting the proper requirements.
“The problem we’ve got is the protocol is being implemented in a way which is causing disruption in Northern Ireland and we had some pretty frank and honest discussions about that situation today,” Frost said.
“There weren’t any breakthroughs. There aren’t any breakdowns either and we’re going to carry on talking.
“What we really now need to do is very urgently find some solutions which support the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, support the peace process in Northern Ireland and allow things to return to normal.”
The stand-off has seen the pound fall against the greenback this afternoon.
Sterling was down 0.3 per cent against the dollar at $1.41165.
The UK unilaterally postponed the imposition of checks on food, parcels and medicines going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland earlier this year in a move that sparked legal action from Brussels.
Johnson is now also reportedly considering postponing the end of the transition period for chilled meats like sausages, which is due to finish at the end of June.
From that point it is supposed to be illegal to send chilled meats from Great Britain to the UK as Brussels brands them as a biosecurity risk – a position considered untenable by Johnson.
Sefcovic wrote in the Telegraph that if the UK reneges on its commitment and continues to send sausages to Northern Ireland past June that it could spark a trade war.
Speaking at a press conference today, Sefcovic reiterated his threat.
“The fact we are at a crossroads means our patience is wearing very thin,” he said.
“Legal action, arbitration and of course I’m talking about cross retaliation [are options]. I do not want this to happen, I believe there are possible solutions.”
Frost warned last night that time was running out to come to an agreement on how to administer the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Both sides have said they need a solution before the unionist marching season begins next month.
Some parts of the unionist community have reacted to the post-Brexit arrangements with fury as they create a so-called border in the Irish Sea.
Anger about the Northern Ireland Protocol helped spark days of violent rioting in Belfast earlier this year.