EU leaders rule out changes to NI Protocol, tell UK it must fulfil obligations

Johnson says UK will do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure protocol does not interfere with market

The leaders of Germany, France and the European Union have told Boris Johnson that he must fulfil his obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol and ruled out making changes to it.

Mr Johnson said he believed the agreement could be interpreted in a way that did not interfere with the United Kingdom’s internal market but threatened to unilaterally suspend it if it was not implemented differently.

French president Emmanuel Macron told Mr Johnson that a reset of the relationship between France and Britain depended on the full implementation of the protocol.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said the protocol was the outcome of long negotiations and that there was no question of the EU abandoning it.


Ms Merkel called for a “pragmatic solution” to the issue. The EU has to defend its common market, she said, but on technical questions there could be a way forward in the dispute, she told a news conference at the summit. “I have said that I favour a pragmatic solution for contractual agreements, because a cordial relationship is of utmost significance for Britain and the European Union.”

The protocol was the sole topic of Mr Johnson's 40-minute meeting with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel. They told him they understood the need for solutions to ensure the flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of control checks between the UK and the European single market.

They urged Mr Johnson and his Brexit minister David Frost, who was present at all three meetings, to tone down the rhetoric and added that all EU member states were aligned in their commitment to holding Britain to its obligations under the protocol.

“I certainly think that the protocol is capable of being used and interpreted – which by the way is up to the EU – in a pragmatic way or a theologically draconian way and at the moment we’re seeing, I think, a lot of unnecessary interference , a lot of unnecessary difficulties. I think we can sort it out with good will,” Mr Johnson told 5 News.

EU leaders have made clear that further unilateral action by Britain could lead to retaliatory measures, possibly including trade sanctions. Mr Johnson said he did not expect a trade war and he said he would do “whatever it takes” to ensure that the protocol did not interfere with the UK’s internal market.

“I think if the protocol continues to be applied in this way then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16 as I’ve said before and don’t forget the EU themselves invoked Article 16 in January to disapply the protocol so they could stop the movement of vaccines from the EU to the UK,” he told Sky News.

“If I may say so, 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.”

Before the G7 meeting, US president Joe Biden reminded Mr Johnson of his commitment to protecting the benefits of the Belfast Agreement. Earlier this month, the US issued a démarche to Britain expressing concern about Lord Frost's inflammatory rhetoric and calling for a negotiated solution to the standoff with Brussels. – Additional reporting: Reuters

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times