PM: EU leaders need to 'get into their heads' that UK is a single country

12 June 2021, 10:45 | Updated: 12 June 2021, 17:06

Emmanuel Macron reportedly offered an olive branch to Boris Johnson over the Brexit deal
Emmanuel Macron reportedly offered an olive branch to Boris Johnson over the Brexit deal. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has said EU leaders need to "get into their heads" that the UK is a "single country" amid the Northern Ireland trade dispute.

The Prime Minister appeared frustrated at talks with his European counterparts as the disagreement about how goods move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland continued.

Reports say the EU is prepared to begin a trade war over the issue. The UK has called for compromise while the bloc is concerned goods could enter the country from Britain, which is not subject to EU rules, and then on to the single market without checks being applied.

Downing Street has previously indicated that the government would be willing to delay the full implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol so chilled meats are not banned from crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.

The consideration comes just weeks before restrictions on British-produced chilled meats entering Northern Ireland are introduced at the end of the month.

Mr Johnson said: "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.

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

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However, delaying checks without the approval of Brussels risks triggering a "sausage war" trade dispute after the European Union threatened to respond to any UK breach.

Previously, the PM has suggested the bloc is taking an "excessively burdensome" approach to post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.

The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market to prevent a hard border with Ireland, meaning a trade barrier in the Irish Sea for goods crossing from Great Britain.

Mr Johnson's official spokesman told reporters in Cornwall the immediate priority was to find "radical and urgent solutions within the protocol".

But "we keep all options on the table", he added, indicating the possibility of a unilateral extension of a grace period to allow sausages to continue to be shipped across the Irish Sea.

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Speaking in English with the prime minister at the G7 summit in Cornwall, Mr Macron is believed to have told the UK leader that the two countries have common interests.

However, he added that those ties could only improve if the PM keeps his word on withdrawal agreements, according to reports quoting an anonymous source.

Downing Street played down expectations of Mr Johnson finding a resolution to the impasse at the Carbis Bay summit.

The spokesman suggested the meeting was "not the forum in which he is necessarily seeking to come up with an immediate solution".

At a press conference ahead of the G7 summit, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen insisted the protocol is the "only solution" to prevent a hard border with the Republic of Ireland and must be implemented in full.

Mr Macron also warned the Brexit deal cannot be renegotiated.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has urged the EU to take a more "pragmatic" approach to the Northern Ireland issue.

He told the BBC the bloc can either continue with a "bloody-minded and purist" stance or adopt an approach that is "win-win".

On Saturday, a No 10 spokesperson said the PM had called for "compromise on all sides" over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.