Boris Johnson has appealed for “compromise on all sides” in the increasingly bitter dispute with Brussels over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister held a series of meeting with the key players on the EU side as the wrangling over the Northern Ireland Protocol threatened to overshadow his hosting of the G7 summit.
Despite threats earlier in the week from Brussels of a possible trade war, Downing Street insisted the talks in Cornwall with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had been “constructive”.
However the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said there was now an urgent need to find “radical changes and pragmatic solutions” to enable the protocol to function effectively.
“In all cases they agreed that they needed to continue discussions on this and to continuing talking to try to find a way through,” the spokesman said.
“The Prime Minister’s desire currently is to work within the existing protocol to find radical changes and pragmatic solutions. That is our immediate focus.
“Currently as implemented, the protocol is having a damaging impact on the people of Northern Ireland. We need to find urgent and innovative solutions.”
Downing Street has indicated the UK would be prepared to unilaterally delay the full implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent a ban on chilled meats crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.
Restrictions on British-produced chilled meats entering Northern Ireland are due to come into force at the end of the month.
Delaying the checks without Brussels’ agreement risks triggering a “sausage war” trade dispute, with the EU threatening to respond to any breach of the deal signed by the Prime Minister.
A No 10 spokesman said that in his talks with the EU leaders, Mr Johnson had stressed his desire for “pragmatism and compromise on all sides” while stressing the need to protect the Northern Ireland peace process.
“The Prime Minister underlined the UK’s position on the Northern Ireland Protocol and the need to maintain both the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the UK,” the spokesman said.
“The Prime Minister made it clear that the UK is committed to finding practical solutions within the framework of the protocol which protect the aims of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and minimise the impact on the day-to-day lives of people in Northern Ireland.”
The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market to avoid a hard border with Ireland, meaning a trade barrier in the Irish Sea for goods crossing from Great Britain.
Earlier Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned the EU not to be “bloody-minded” about the enforcement of its terms.
“They can be more pragmatic about the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol in a way that is win-win or they can be bloody-minded and purist about it, in which case I am afraid we will not allow the integrity of the UK to be threatened,” he told the BBC.
His warning came after Mr Macron reportedly made clear the UK-France relationship could only be “reset” if Mr Johnson stood by the Brexit deal, according to French sources.
Mrs von der Leyen has also insisted the protocol is the “only solution” to prevent a hard border with the Republic and must be implemented in full.
Meanwhile the main business of the summit will see the leaders discuss building resilience to future crises, consider foreign policy and then decide on their response to Covid-19.
Leaders from the G7 will commit to a new plan – the Carbis Bay Declaration – to quash future pandemics within the first 100 days.
The UK will also create a new animal vaccine centre aimed at preventing future diseases crossing from creatures to humans.
As part of Mr Johnson’s “Global Britain” agenda, the leaders of South Korea, India, Australia and South Africa will also take part in summit events, expanding the G7 to take in other prominent democracies.
At the end of the day, the leaders attending the event – India’s Narendra Modi will participate remotely because of the coronavirus crisis in his country – will relax with a barbecue on the beach cooked by Simon Stallard, chef at the Hidden Hut in Portscatho.
They will be served sirloin and lobster and can then enjoy hot buttered rum and toasted marshmallows around fire pits on the beach.
Sea shanty group Du Hag Owr will provide the musical accompaniment, and there will also be a Red Arrows flypast.