PM Johnson accuses EU of using threatening food blockade

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has accused the European Union of threatening to impose a trade border down the Irish Sea and a food blockade between Britain and Northern Ireland unless the bloc’s terms for a future relationship were agreed.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual news conference on the ongoing situation with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Downing Street, London, Britain September 9, 2020. Stefan Rousseau/Pool via REUTERS

Johnson’s government said this week it planned to break international law by breaching part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement treaty signed in January when Britain left the bloc, saying it needed a new law to protect free trade between the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom.

That move has soured relations between London and Brussels, and increased the likelihood that trade talks between Britain and the EU will fail and that no deal will be struck before a post-Brexit transition period ends in December.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Johnson said he had become “anxious” in the last few weeks that the EU might have misunderstood the terms of the Brexit divorce deal which includes a Northern Ireland protocol designed to prevent any hard border between the British province and the Irish republic.

“We are now hearing that, unless we agree to the EU’s terms, the EU will use an extreme interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol to impose a full-scale trade border down the Irish Sea,” Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“We are being told that the EU will not only impose tariffs on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but that they might actually stop the transport of food products from GB to NI.”

He cast the EU stance as both a risk to the United Kingdom and to peace in Northern Ireland, where the 1998 Good Friday agreement largely ended 30 years of sectarian violence.

“We have to protect the UK from that disaster, and that is why we have devised a legal safety net – in the UK Internal Market Bill – to clarify the position and to sort out the inconsistencies,” Johnson wrote.

“So let’s end any potential for misunderstanding. Let’s remove this danger to the very fabric of the United Kingdom. Let’s make the EU take their threats off the table.”

(This story refiles to remove extraneous word from headline)

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Sandra Maler and Daniel Wallis