Prime minister Boris Johnson is said to be considering “all options” amid a potential 'trade war' with the EU over chilled meats, The Daily Telegraph reports.
The row arose after the bloc threatened to impose sanctions on the UK over British exports to Northern Ireland.
Westminster has been weighing up the prospect of extending the grace period for exporting chilled meats such as sausages and mince to Northern Ireland, which is due to come to an end in June. The UK has already unilaterally extended grace periods for supermarket goods and parcels earlier in the year, prompting legal action from Brussels.
Under the existing grace period, chilled meats produced in Great Britain can still be sent to Northern Ireland, but when it lapses on June 30 any sausages and mince produced in England could not be sold across the Irish Sea. An extension would provide a short term remedy to that trade barrier.
However, should the UK do this, the EU has threatened to “react swiftly, firmly and resolutely” with tariffs and quotas, so writes vice-president of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Relations, Maros Sefcovic.
EU officials have also warned that the bloc will hesitate to trigger further mechanisms in the Brexit deal which could culminate in significant tariffs on British exports and the suspension of certain elements of the free-trade agreement.
An official said: “The EU's patience is wearing thin, and if this continues, we will have to consider all the tools and all the options that are available to us.
“If there's to be a discussion on new extended or expanded flexibilities, then we believe the UK first needs to implement the protocol.”
Downing Street has hit back, saying that there is “no case whatsoever” for the EU to impede exports of chilled meats between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, arguing that such action is “contrary to the aims of the protocol and the people of Northern Ireland.”
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s joint committee meeting during which the UK and EU will hold talks over the protocol, the PM’s official spokesman said: “The protocol was formed in a spirit of compromise, in challenging circumstances. It was not a finished solution... and we didn't expect the EU to take such a purist approach to it.”
The spokesman did not rule out reciprocal action from the UK if the EU did press ahead with sanctions.
He continued: “We are working very hard to resolve these issues consensually. But the prime minister has always made clear we will consider all our options in meeting our responsibility to sustain peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. Time is starting to run out and solutions are needed.”
The spokesman’s words echo those of Johnson himself, which were uttered during a June 7 call with French president Emmanuel Macron.
During the call, the PM stressed that “both the UK and the EU have a responsibility to address the issues with the [Northern Ireland] Protocol”.
When writing in The Daily Telegraph, Sefcovic also rubbished claims from his UK counterpart, Lord Frost, that the EU has been “inflexible” over its interpretation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, and called on both parties to work together to rekindle trust.