Brexit: EU chief tells Johnson ‘we will not renegotiate’ over Northern Ireland

Ursula von der Leyen said Brussels would be ‘creative and flexible’.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (Brian Lawless/PA)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (Brian Lawless/PA)

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen has rejected Boris Johnson’s plea to renegotiate the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland after a phone call with the Prime Minister.

The European Commission president said on Thursday that Brussels will “be creative and flexible” over the Northern Ireland Protocol “but we will not renegotiate”.

Her dismissal came despite Mr Johnson arguing there are “huge opportunity to find reasonable, practical solutions to the difficulties” being experienced in Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson also extended his diplomatic efforts to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he urged to join the EU to “collectively to engage in a constructive and detailed discussion on the UK’s proposals”.

The calls came after Brexit minister Lord Frost demanding that significant changes are made to the terms of the deal he negotiated as he said “we cannot go on as we are”.

But the Tory peer held back from immediately suspending parts of the deal, despite claiming the UK would be justified to take the dramatic step.

Ms von der Leyen said Mr Johnson “called to present” the proposals to solve the post-Brexit trade issues between Northern Ireland and Great Britain on Thursday morning.

“The EU will continue to be creative and flexible within the Protocol framework.

“But we will not renegotiate,” she tweeted.

“We must jointly ensure stability and predictability in Northern Ireland.”

Downing Street said that Mr Johnson “set out that the way the protocol was currently operating was unsustainable” during the call.

“Solutions could not be found through the existing mechanisms of the protocol,” a No 10 statement said.

“That was why we had set out proposals for significant changes to it.

“He urged the EU to look at those proposals seriously and work with the UK on them.

“There is a huge opportunity to find reasonable, practical solutions to the difficulties facing people and businesses in Northern Ireland, and thereby to put the relationship between the UK and the EU on a better footing.”

In the afternoon, Downing Street said he went on to call Ms Merkel to warn the protocol was “failing to deliver” on objectives to minimise disruption and preserve the peace agreement.

“The Prime Minister underlined that solutions could not be found through the existing mechanisms of the protocol and that was why we had set out proposals for significant changes to it,” a statement said.

“He urged the Chancellor and the EU collectively to engage in a constructive and detailed discussion on the UK’s proposals.”

Earlier in the day, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the protocol, which effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, was never “something that was going to last forever”.

Cabinet meeting
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng leaves following a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, London (Victoria Jones/PA)

“A deal is a deal but it wasn’t something that was going to last forever,” he told Sky News.

“Nobody thought the Northern Ireland Protocol was going to define the role of Northern Ireland within the UK forevermore, it was something that was flexible.

“You’ll remember two years ago people said we were never going to get a deal from the EU but we did so.

“When people say they’re not going to look at the protocol again, I say ‘well, let’s just see’.”

The protocol was put in place to ensure there would be no hard border with Ireland, but it has instead effectively placed a trade barrier in the Irish Sea.

However, Lord Frost said the economic and social damage caused by the arrangements would have justified the use of Article 16, effectively tearing up parts of the deal.

Brexit
UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, Lord David Frost, arrives at St Pancras station in London (Aaron Chown/PA)

The difficulties caused by the arrangements have meant Northern Ireland had faced reductions in supermarket product lines.

Marks & Spencer’s chairman warned there will be some “gaps on shelves” in Northern Ireland this Christmas.

One idea put forward would be for UK traders to declare whether the final destination for their goods was Northern Ireland or the Republic.

Lord Frost’s proposals are thought to require changes to at least three of the protocol’s articles.

He called for a “standstill” period, preserving the current grace periods and suspending legal action taken by the EU against the UK while changes are negotiated.

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