Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel have expressed confidence that “pragmatic solutions” can be found to difficulties caused by the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. But Brexit minister David Frost and Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis have renewed their threat of unilateral action if the European Union does not agree to Britain’s demand for changes to how the agreement works.
Speaking to reporters at Chequers, the UK prime minister’s country residence, Dr Merkel said she was optimistic that the integrity of the EU’s single market could be secured while “acceptable solutions” to concerns about the protocol could be found. Mr Johnson agreed that solutions could be found to issues such as the EU’s prohibition on the movement of chilled meats, including sausages from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson at Chequers. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA/Bloomberg
“So we have to sort it out. I’m sure, as Angela says, with goodwill and with patience we can sort it out. Hopefully, as we said at our bilateral, when it comes to chilled meats the wurst is behind us, as I think Angela said, or maybe I said that.”
Writing in The Irish Times, however, Mr Frost and Mr Lewis said the current process to resolve difficulties surrounding the protocol was not working and called for “a new balance” in the way it was operated.
“The situation is now urgent. The UK and Ireland have a huge, and very direct, interest in finding solutions here. But we need constructive and ambitious discussions with the EU which deal with the actual reality,” they said.
“To simply say “the protocol must be implemented in full” is to take a theological approach that is frozen in time and does not deal with the reality that now exists. If operating the protocol on the current basis is making the situation worse, then how can pressing for an even more rigorous assertion of it make sense? Can it be right that the commitments made in the protocol to protecting the Good Friday Agreement and preventing disruption and economic harm are deemed less important than those designed to protect the single market?”
Mr Frost and Mr Lewis said that if solutions were not found, Britain would “have to consider all our options”, a phrase that has in the past meant unilateral action in breach of the withdrawal agreement and international law.
Dr Merkel suggested that Germany could soon relax its strict rules requiring all visitors from Britain to quarantine for 14 days, so that those who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to enter the country freely. And the chancellor, who will leave office later this year, said she had a good relationship with the UK prime minister, despite their different political styles.
“Co-operation with Boris Johnson developed very, very well,” she said. “If it hadn’t we wouldn’t be standing here. We look at each other, we look at how different people can be and we make the best of it.”