Boris Johnson Says ‘We Will Fix’ Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol
(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to find a solution to Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol, a sign that a compromise will be reached with the European Union in a dispute that had threatened to spiral into a trade war.
“Is there a problem with the Northern Irish protocol? Yes there is -- but we’ll fix that,” Johnson said in an interview with Bloomberg News’s editor-in-chief, John Micklethwait, on Monday. “I don’t think that’s going to be the end of the world.”
The prime minister’s upbeat comments are his first on the issue since U.K. and EU officials last week re-opened talks to amend the rules governing Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit status. Unlike the rest of the U.K., the province remained inside the EU single market for goods, meaning products arriving from the rest of Britain are subject to customs formalities.
As those checks disrupted the flow of trade across the Irish Sea, the U.K. had threatened to suspend the protocol unless it was overhauled. In turn, the EU pledged to retaliate forcefully, sparking concerns of a damaging tit-for-tat dispute between Britain and its largest trading partner.
Johnson’s remarks add to a note of positivity around the negotiations. Brexit Minister David Frost said on Monday he would engage “constructively” with the EU after it presented practical fixes to reduce disruption to trade across the Irish Sea.
The bloc has offered to reduce customs checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland by half, and inspections on many food products by 80%.
But a major sticking point in the talks remains: the role of the European Court of Justice. The U.K. has said it should have no influence over Northern Ireland, while the EU has said access to its single market requires supervision by the ECJ.
Officials will continue talks in Brussels this week. While Frost has said he wants to resolve the issue by November, European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic has said the talks could continue until the year-end.
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