Boris Johnson urged Ursula von der Leyen to “seriously” consider the U.K.’s latest proposals for change to the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol — as the European Commission president made clear Brussels is in no mood to renegotiate.
In a phone call Thursday morning with von der Leyen, the U.K. prime minister argued that the trade set-up in its current from is “unsustainable,” according to a readout released by Downing Street.
A No.10 spokesperson said Johnson had told von der Leyen solutions to the ongoing row over the protocol “could not be found through the existing mechanisms,” hence Britain this week pressing for “significant changes to it.”
“He urged the EU to look at those proposals seriously and work with the U.K. on them,” the statement added.
Confirming the call on Twitter, von der Leyen said the EU would “continue to be creative and flexible within the Protocol framework. But we will not renegotiate.”
The Commission president added: “We must jointly ensure stability and predictability in Northern Ireland.”
Brussels and London agreed to the protocol in last year’s Brexit deal to avoid enforcement of the EU’s single market rules at the politically-sensitive border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Instead, checks are required on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, but that has angered unionist parties in Northern Ireland and prompted complaints from businesses operating across the border.
The EU has meanwhile been angered by the U.K.’s move to unilaterally waive enforcement of some checks meant to protect the single market, and has launched legal action.
“There is a huge opportunity to find reasonable, practical solutions to the difficulties facing people and businesses in Northern Ireland, and thereby to put the relationship between the U.K. and the EU on a better footing,” Johnson is said to have told the Commission president. “They agreed to remain in touch.”
Maroš Šefčovič, the Commission’s point person on Brexit, made clear in statement yesterday that the EU will “continue to seek creative solutions” on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland — but stressed it “will not agree to a renegotiation of the protocol.”