Boris Johnson will meet the European Union’s key players on Saturday as the dispute over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements deepened.
The Prime Minister will hold talks with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, European Council head Charles Michel, French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 summit in Cornwall.
Ahead of the talks, No 10 again indicated the UK would be prepared to unilaterally delay the full implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol in order to prevent a ban on chilled meats crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.
Such a move risks triggering a “sausage war” trade dispute, with the EU threatening to respond to any breach of the deal.
Mr Johnson suggested the EU was taking an “excessively burdensome” approach to post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister, who signed the Brexit divorce deal which included the Northern Ireland Protocol, insisted he is not trying to back out of the agreement.
But he said the UK’s “internal market” has to be respected and “we just need to make it work”.
The EU could retaliate against Britain if it fails to implement checks on goods entering Northern Ireland under the terms of the Brexit “divorce” settlement which Mr Johnson signed.
Restrictions on British-made chilled meats are due to come into force at the end of the month.
The Protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market in order to avoid a hard border with Ireland, meaning a trade barrier in the Irish Sea for goods crossing from Great Britain.
Mr Johnson told the BBC: “You will understand that there are ways of enforcing the Protocol, ways of making it work, that may be excessively burdensome.
“I just give you one statistic: 20% of the checks conducted across the whole of the perimeter of the EU are now done in Northern Ireland, three times as many as happen in Rotterdam.”
The new post-Brexit arrangements came into effect on January 1 and the dispute is still simmering, but Mr Johnson insisted “I think we can sort it out”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters in Cornwall the immediate priority was to find “radical and urgent solutions within the protocol”.
But “we keep all options on the table”, he added, indicating the possibility of a unilateral extension of the grace period to allow sausages to continue to be shipped across the Irish Sea.
Downing Street played down expectations of Mr Johnson finding a resolution to the impasse at the Carbis Bay summit.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman suggested “this is not the forum in which he is necessarily seeking to come up with an immediate solution at the G7”.
But the leaders are expected to talk about the “challenges that this is bringing to the people of Northern Ireland and the risks it poses to the Good Friday Agreement in the current form of the protocol and the need to find urgent solutions”.
At a press conference ahead of the G7 summit, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen insisted the Protocol is the “only solution” to prevent a hard border with the Republic and must be implemented in full.
“We have shown flexibility, we will show flexibility, but the Protocol and the (Brexit) Withdrawal Agreement have to be implemented completely,” she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron also warned the Brexit deal cannot be renegotiated.
US President Joe Biden, who has Irish ancestry, is taking a close interest in the dispute and has warned against anything that could destabilise the arrangements put in place by the Good Friday Agreement