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Boris Johnson claims Mark Rutte offered to mediate NI protocol

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has offered to mediate in EU-UK talks on the controversial Irish protocol to the Brexit deal, Boris Johnson said.

The British Prime Minister said Rutte made the offer at a meeting in Downing Street last Friday, although Dutch diplomats briefed on the meeting disputed the claim.

Johnson has sounded the alarm bells in Europe, warning in recent months that the UK will not hesitate to trigger Article 16 – the waiver mechanism that suspends parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, the part of the 2019 UK Brexit Withdrawal Agreement which covers trade with the region.

The protocol created a trade border in the Irish Sea to prevent the return of a north-south trade border to Ireland, but demanded high levels of costly and cumbersome controls on goods traveling from Britain to Northern Ireland to achieve this goal. .

Asked when Johnson intended to trigger Article 16, the PM said he was determined to find a solution, but admitted “the current situation cannot go on forever”.

Speaking on a flight to New York, Johnson said the protocol is currently being enforced “madly” and requires “common sense” solutions to be made operational.

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“I don’t think that’s reasonable, 20 percent of all checks across the EU perimeter are now carried out in Northern Ireland. So we have to fix the problem, we have to fix it quickly.

“I spoke to Mark Rutte the other night who wanted to come over and see if he could referee on this and I said ‘you know, we really want to improve. We are looking for a solution, but it must be one that allows the free movement of goods between all regions of our country, ”he said.

However, a senior Dutch diplomat said it was incorrect to suggest that Rutte had offered to intercede on behalf of the UK with the European Commission or EU member states. “Rutte’s message was clear: ‘Be pragmatic, don’t escalate and speak to the commission that is negotiating on our behalf,'” said the diplomat briefed on last week’s meeting.

Lord David Frost, the Brexit Minister, has warned that levels of control over goods crossing the Irish Sea are “unsustainable” due to the barriers they create within the UK’s internal market, dissuading British companies from doing business with the region.

The government is seeking to make fundamental changes to the protocol, which it spelled out in a so-called command document in July, including removing the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over trade in goods in Northern Ireland and a “honesty box” system for moving. goods through the Irish Sea border.

London said the trade disruption caused by the protocol had already crossed the threshold to trigger Article 16, but refrained from doing so as it continued negotiations with Brussels on how to implement the protocol easier.

Among the potential improvements to the deal being considered on the EU side is a medicines deal to ensure that the application of EU rules does not restrict supplies to Northern Ireland; a mechanism to consult politicians in the region on new EU rules; and more ways to reduce the burden of agrifood controls in the Irish Sea.

Johnson’s remarks about the need for a swift resolution of the problems caused by the protocol came as businesses in Northern Ireland finalized updated proposals on how to improve it: these should be submitted to Brussels in the coming days.

However, Frost has previously warned that granting additional “flexibilities” by the EU will not be enough to address the fundamental problems caused by the protocol that the UK government wants to address.

A senior British official added that the UK was seeking a comprehensive solution to the problem raised by the protocol and would not accept “unilaterally concocted” solutions in Brussels.

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