There were “bound” to be issues that needed ironing out between the UK and Brussels, the prime minister has said, as post-Brexit difficulties continue.
Lord Frost, the cabinet minister who negotiated Britain’s trade deal with the European Union, provoked the ire of Brussels last week by unilaterally making changes that impacted upon the Northern Ireland Protocol.
He followed it up with stern words in a Sunday Telegraph article, calling on Brussels to “shake off any remaining ill will” towards the UK for leaving the bloc.
But Boris Johnson looked to play down the row, saying he was “full of optimism” about the cross-Channel relationship.
He told broadcasters: “I think this is one of those issues we were always bound to have in the early stages of our new relationship with our friends in the EU and the various technical issues we are going to iron out.”
Speaking during a visit to a vaccination centre in north London, he said: “I’m full of optimism about the future and the partnership we are building.”
It comes as Northern Ireland’s first minister called for the “disastrous” protocol to be dismantled.
The Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement was designed by the EU and UK to avoid a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland.
It means keeping Northern Ireland aligned to various EU rules, requiring checks on goods arriving into the region from Great Britain.
Arlene Foster welcomed “small moves” by the UK government in extending some of the grace periods on checks under the protocol.
But the DUP leader said the post-Brexit terms had been “absolutely devastating” and called for efforts to be put into finding a replacement.
In a move that has seen the European Commission threaten legal action, the UK announced last week it was extending a series of “grace periods” designed to ease trade between Northern Ireland – which remains in the EU single market for goods – and Great Britain while permanent arrangements are decided.
Cabinet Office minister Lord Frost said that London’s move should allow time for constructive discussions with counterparts in Brussels.
But the intervention provoked a furious response in Brussels, with the EU accusing the UK of going back on its treaty obligations in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement intended to ensure there is no return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Lord Frost said the move was lawful and designed to protect the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland.
“With Boris Johnson as prime minister, our agenda is one of an outward-looking country, confident we can work with others towards common goals,” he said in his newspaper piece.
“That is our hope for our ties with our European friends and allies too. I hope they will shake off any remaining ill will towards us for leaving, and instead build a friendly relationship, between sovereign equals.”