The European Union (EU) has been urged to back down in a dispute with the UK over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was holding talks with the EU’s key players on Saturday as the dispute threatened to overshadow his hosting of the G7 summit.
The UK Prime Minister was meeting European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, European Council head Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the margins of the gathering in Cornwall.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged the EU to take a more “pragmatic” approach to the Northern Ireland issue.
The main summit agenda will see the leaders of the UK, the US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Italy commit to a new plan aimed at preventing a repeat of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Johnson also faces a potentially tricky series of meetings with the EU’s senior representatives.
The British Government has indicated the UK would be prepared to unilaterally delay the full implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent a ban on chilled meats crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.
Restrictions on British-produced chilled meats entering Northern Ireland are due to come into force at the end of the month.
Delaying the checks without Brussels’ agreement risks triggering a “sausage war” trade dispute, with the EU threatening to respond to any breach of the deal signed by the UK Prime Minister.
Mr Johnson has suggested the EU is taking an “excessively burdensome” approach to post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.
Mr Raab told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “They can be more pragmatic about the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol in a way that is win-win or they can be bloody-minded and purist about it, in which case I am afraid we will not allow the integrity of the UK to be threatened.”
During the meeting in Cornwall, Mr Macron reportedly told the British Prime Minister the UK-France relationship could only be “reset” if Mr Johnson stood by the Brexit deal, according to French sources.
The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market to avoid a hard border with Ireland, meaning a trade barrier in the Irish Sea for goods crossing from Great Britain.
The UK Prime Minister’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.
The British Government 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, Mrs von der Leyen insisted the protocol is the “only solution” to prevent a hard border with the Republic and must be implemented in full.
Mr Macron also warned the Brexit deal cannot be renegotiated.
The main business of the summit will see the leaders discuss building resilience to future crises, consider foreign policy and then decide on their response to Covid-19.
Leaders from the G7 will commit to a new plan – the Carbis Bay Declaration – to quash future pandemics within the first 100 days.
The UK will also create a new animal vaccine centre aimed at preventing future diseases crossing from creatures to humans.
As part of Mr Johnson’s “Global Britain” agenda the leaders of South Korea, India, Australia and South Africa will also take part in summit events, expanding the G7 to take in other prominent democracies.
At the end of the day, the leaders attending the event – India’s Narendra Modi will participate remotely because of the coronavirus crisis in his country – will relax with a barbecue on the beach cooked by Simon Stallard, chef at the Hidden Hut in Portscatho.
They will be served sirloin and lobster and can then enjoy hot buttered rum and toasted marshmallows around fire pits on the beach.
Sea shanty group Du Hag Owr will provide the musical accompaniment, and there will also be a Red Arrows flypast.