Boris Johnson has told the Taoiseach that “pragmatism” is needed to mend the issues being caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol, as the UK prepares to announce its own proposed solution.
In a phone call with Micheál Martin on Tuesday afternoon, the British prime minister called for the European Union to have an open mind to possible solutions required to address the “serious challenges” to trade between Northern Ireland and Britain.
The leaders had been due to meet in person in the UK, until Mr Johnson was told to self-isolate after coming into close contact with UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for coronavirus at the weekend.
In their phone call, the leaders "exchanged views" on the current Covid-19 situation, especially in regard to the Delta variant, a statement from the Irish Government said.
The Taoiseach also raised legacy issues in Northern Ireland, including serious concerns at the British government’s proposals to introduce a statute of limitations on crimes committed during the Northern Ireland conflict.
Mr Martin "emphasised that there can be no pre-determined outcome to the consultation process currently underway," the statement continued.
With the Northern Ireland Protocol also discussed, the Taoiseach said that the UK government’s statements on it, to be made at Westminster tomorrow, would be carefully considered and he stressed the EU-UK framework for issues related to the Protocol.
The Protocol was negotiated as part of Britain’s divorce from Brussels, avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.
However, the introduction of checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea has angered Unionists, who argue the Brexit terms have weakened Northern Ireland’s links with the rest of the UK.
Leading supermarkets at the weekend hit out over fears of the impact on supply lines into the region once various grace periods on checks end, while businesses based in Britain are said to have given up on sending goods into Northern Ireland due to rising costs and red tape.
UK Brexit minister David Frost and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis are due to announce to peers and MPs respectively on Wednesday the UK’s proposals for fixing the Protocol.
In a readout of Mr Johnson’s conversation with Mr Martin, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The prime minister emphasised that the way the Protocol is currently operating is causing significant disruption for the people in Northern Ireland.
“He made clear the UK government’s commitment to protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions.
“He said the EU must show pragmatism and solutions needed to be found to address the serious challenges that have arisen with the Protocol.
“The prime minister said that the UK government would outline its approach on the Northern Ireland Protocol to Parliament tomorrow.”
— Leader of the House of Commons (@CommonsLeader) July 20, 2021
Mr Frost, who negotiated the Protocol during talks with the EU, told the UK Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee on Monday that ministers were “keeping all options on the table” to resolve issues with the Protocol, including triggering a clause which would allow the unilateral overruling of the agreement.