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UK urges EU to move on post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland

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Britain told the European Union on Wednesday (9 June) time is running out to find solutions to ease post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland, saying any further legal action by the bloc would not "make life any easier" for people in the province, Reuters.

Since completing its exit from the EU late last year, Britain's relations with it have soured, with both sides accusing each other of acting in bad faith over part of their trade deal that covers goods movements to Northern Ireland.

British Brexit minister David Frost met European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic in London to try to resolve the differences over the Northern Ireland protocol, but so far months of talks have done little to break the deadlock.

Brussels accuses London of breaking the agreement by failing to implement checks on some goods moving from Britain to its province of Northern Ireland, and has started legal action over the British government's unilateral extension of a grace period.

London says it has no choice because some of the checks hamper supplies to Northern Irish supermarkets. It points to rising tensions among pro-British unionists in the province.

"When I meet Maros Sefcovic later today my message will be clear: time is short and practical solutions are needed now to make the protocol work," Frost said in a statement, calling for flexibility to find solutions "that enjoy the confidence of all communities".

"Further threats of legal action and trade retaliation from the EU won't make life any easier for the shopper in Strabane who can't buy their favourite product."

His words were a response to an article Sefcovic wrote in the Telegraph newspaper on Tuesday when he warned Britain the EU would "not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely" if it considered Britain was breaching its legal obligations. Read more.

London and Brussels say want to find solutions but accuse each other of not engaging with various competing proposals.

The grace period on some goods expires on 30 June, and a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday (8 June) there was "no case whatsoever for preventing chilled meat from being sold in Northern Ireland".

"What is needed is pragmatism and common sense solutions to resolve the issues as they are before us," Frost said. "This work is important. And it is ever more urgent."

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Germany’s Merkel urges pragmatic approach to Northern Ireland

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured) called on Saturday for a “pragmatic solution” to disagreements over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, Reuters Read more.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, threatening emergency measures if no solution was found.

The EU has to defend its common market, Merkel said, but on technical questions there could be a way forward in the dispute, she told a news conference during a Group of Seven leaders' 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," she said.

Referring to a conversation she had with U.S. President Joe Biden about geopolitical issues, Merkel said they agreed that Ukraine must continue to remain a transit country for Russian natural gas once Moscow completes the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

The $11 billion pipeline will carry gas to Germany directly, something Washington fears could undermine Ukraine and increase Russia's influence over Europe.

Biden and Merkel are due to meet in Washington on July 15, and the strain on bilateral ties caused by the project will be on the agenda.

The G7 sought on Saturday to counter China's growing influence by offering developing nations an infrastructure plan that would rival President Xi Jinping's multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative. L5N2NU045

Asked about the plan, Merkel said the G7 was not yet ready to specify how much financing could be made available.

“Our financing instruments often are not as quickly available as developing countries need them,” she said

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Macron offers UK's Johnson 'Le reset' if he keeps his Brexit word

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French President Emmanuel Macron offered on Saturday (12 June) to reset relations with Britain as long as Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands by the Brexit divorce deal he signed with the European Union, writes Michel Rose.

Since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year, relations with the bloc and particularly France have soured, with Macron becoming the most vocal critic of London's refusal to honour the terms of part of its Brexit deal.

At a meeting at the Group of Seven rich nations in southwestern England, Macron told Johnson the two countries had common interests, but that ties could improve only if Johnson kept his word on Brexit, a source said.

"The president told Boris Johnson there needed to be a reset of the Franco-British relationship," the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

"This can happen provided that he keeps his word with the Europeans," the source said, adding that Macron spoke in English to Johnson.

The Elysee Palace said that France and Britain shared a common vision and common interests on many global issues and "a shared approach to transatlantic policy".

Johnson will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Saturday, where she could also raise the dispute over a part of the EU divorce deal that is called the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The British leader, who is hosting the G7 meeting, wants the summit to focus on global issues, but has stood his ground on trade with Northern Ireland, calling on the EU to be more flexible in its approach to easing trade to the province from Britain.

The protocol aims to keep the province, which borders EU member Ireland, in both the United Kingdom's customs territory and the EU's single market. But London says the protocol is unsustainable in its current form because of the disruption it has caused to supplies of everyday goods to Northern Ireland.

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'Whatever it takes', UK's Johnson warns EU over post-Brexit trade

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Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday (12 June), threatening emergency measures if no solution was found, write Elizabeth Piper and Michel Rose.

The threat by Johnson seemed to break a temporary truce in a war of words over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, the focus for tensions since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year.

Despite US President Joe Biden encouraging them to find a compromise, Johnson used a G7 summit to indicate no softening in his position on what is called the Northern Ireland protocol that covers border issues with the British province.

"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," Johnson told Sky News.

"I think if the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16," he added, referring to a safeguard clause that allows either side to take measures if they believe the agreement is leading to economic, societal or environment difficulties.

"I've talked to some of our friends here today, who do seem to misunderstand that the UK is a single country, a single territory. I just need to get that into their heads."

His comments came after he met French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel at a Group of Seven summit in southwestern England.

The EU told the British government once again that it must implement the Brexit deal in full and introduce checks on certain goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland. Britain repeated its call for urgent and innovative solutions to ease the friction.

The province has an open border with EU member Ireland so the Northern Ireland protocol was agreed as a way to preserve the bloc's single market after Britain left.

The protocol essentially kept the province in the EU’s customs union and adhering to many of the single market rules, creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea between the British province and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Anti-Brexit protesters holding a banner and flags demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel remove their protective face masks as they meet during the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 12, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Pool

Since Britain exited the bloc's orbit, Johnson has unilaterally delayed the implementation of some provisions of the protocol, including checks on chilled meats such as sausages moving from the mainland to Northern Ireland, saying it was causing disruption to some supplies to the province.

"Both sides must implement what we agreed on," von der Leyen, European Commission president, said after meeting Johnson alongside Michel, the European Council president.

"There is complete EU unity on this," she said, adding that the deal had been agreed, signed and ratified by both Johnson's government and the bloc.

Germany's Merkel said the two sides could find pragmatic solutions on technical questions, while the EU protected its single market.

Earlier this week, talks between the two sets of negotiators ended in an exchange of threats over the so-called "sausage wars". An EU official said at the G7 that there was a need for the rhetoric to be toned down.

The head of the World Trade Organization said she hoped the tensions would not escalate into a trade war.

The United States has also expressed grave concern the dispute could undermine the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.

That agreement largely brought an end to the "Troubles" - three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Though Brexit was not part of the formal agenda for the G7 summit in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay, it has more than once threatened to cloud the meeting.

France's Macron offered to reset relations with Britain as long as Johnson stood by the Brexit deal - a characterisation of the meeting that was rejected by the British team. Read more.

Brexit has also strained the situation in Northern Ireland, where the pro-British "unionist" community say they are now split off from the rest of the United Kingdom and the Brexit deal breaches the 1998 peace deal. But the open border between the province and Ireland was a key principle of the Good Friday deal.

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