Michel Barnier has accused Downing Street of not correctly explaining the consequences of Brexit to British businesses as a row surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol continues to heat up.
The EU’s former Brexit negotiator hit out at No 10, insisting scenes of empty supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland were not the result of new checks in the Irish Sea but the withdrawal terms the UK government sought during trade negotiations.
The remarks come as crisis talks between the two sides in London drew to a close with both parties reiterating their commitment to “the proper implementation” of the protocol.
Gove was expected in the meeting to request a two-year delay to further checks on food supplies – a suggestion the EU side had been expected to turn down.
A joint statement said Gove and the European Commission’s vice president Maros Sefcovic had had a “frank but constructive discussion” on Thursday evening, in which they agreed to “spare no effort” in implementing solutions. The two politicians agreed to reconvene no later than February 24.
Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney described the meeting as a “good day’s work”, tweeting: “Focus now is on EU/UK cooperation to implement what’s been agreed in Protocol and to work on solutions to outstanding issues linked to implementation.”
But Barner disagreed and said prior to the meeting: “The difficulties on the island of Ireland are caused by Brexit, not by the Protocol,” adding that “the Protocol is the solution”.
He added: “Many of these consequences have not been correctly explained, they have been generally underestimated.”
“Brexit means Brexit,” he told a European Business Summit event, stealing the slogan coined by Theresa May, when she sought hard exit terms.
This comes after Sefcovic accused the UK of failing to implement the protocol.
In a letter to Gove, Sefcovic said the EU would not considering softening protocol obligations unless the UK complies with what was agreed by both sides back in December.
He added there were “very few checks” on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain and said that non-compliant consignments were still flowing from NI into the Republic.