Boris Johnson has ramped up tensions with Brussels by saying he “will not hesitate” to invoke measures to suspend elements of the Northern Ireland protocol if EU leaders do not compromise in the so-called “sausage war” over imports of chilled meat.
The prime minister gave a defiant response to a string of EU leaders who this morning warned him that he must deliver on his side of the Brexit deal struck with Brussels in 2019.
French president Emmanuel Macron told the PM he must “keep his word” over arrangements for the Northern Irish border if he wants a reset of relations with France.
And European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told him there was “complete EU unity” that he must implement the measures he agreed in the protocol, which include a ban on movements of chilled meat products from the British mainland to Northern Ireland from the end of this month.
Despite pleas from Brussels chiefs for the UK to tone down its rhetoric in a row which has dominated the G7 summit in Cornwall this week, foreign secretary Dominic Raab took a provocative tone, telling the EU to stop being “bloody-minded” on the issue.
And Mr Johnson suggested Europe had failed to show goodwill, accusing Brussels of taking a “theologically draconian” approach.
Speaking to broadcasters at the Carbis Bay summit, Mr Johnson left no doubt he is ready to escalate the stand-off into a trade war by invoking Article 16 of the protocol, which allows either side to suspend the agreement if it is having damaging economic, societal or environmental consequences.
The move would pave the way to the imposition by the EU of tariffs or quotas on UK exports, which need not be limited to the products involved in the Northern Irish dispute.
In an interview with Sky News, Mr Johnson was asked whether he was lying when he claimed his deal would not produce a customs border in the Irish Sea or had failed to understand the treaty which he signed.
He responded: “I think the treaty I signed is perfectly reasonable. I don’t think that the interpetation or application of the of the protocol is sensible or pragmatic.
“I think that the protocol can work if it is sensibly applied but at the moment, it’s not just a question of chilled meats or or sausages, there are all kinds of impediments being constructed, and we need to sort it out.
“I think we can sort it out, but … it is up to our EU friends and partners to understand that we will do whatever it takes.
“I think if the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16.”