Solicitor General Lucy Frazer’s comment came ahead of talks between Boris Johnson and Joe Biden, where the US President will pile pressure on Britain not to renege on the Northern Ireland protocol struck as part of the Brexit agreement.
Senior European figures accused the UK of trying to wriggle out of the protocol by portraying it, rather than Brexit, as the cause of difficulties on the ground, including shortages in the province of some goods made in Britain.
Speaking on Sky News, Ms Frazer said suggested the protocol needed to be reformed: “It is very difficult on the ground in terms of trade. It is really important that we sort it and Lord Frost [the Brexit Minister] is doing just that.
“As it has panned out, on the ground, it is more difficult than we anticipated and we do need to sort out that trade arrangement.”
That echoed a weekend article by Lord Frost that called on the European Union to forgo “legal purism” and embrace “pragmatic solutions” to help resolve the difficulties – code for watering down the protocol.
Clement Beaune, the French foreign affairs minister, reacted angrily: “The Northern Irish protocol cannot be called into question. It’s not the problem, it’s the solution to a problem we didn’t create.”
And Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign affairs minister, accused the UK of waging a campaign to blame “EU inflexibility” for the difficulties in the Province. “This is simply not the case,” he protested. “Is this about media messaging in UK or really solving problems together?”
The Times reported that Mr Biden will warn that a trade deal between the UK and the US could be harmed unless the row with the EU is settled. He will use a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister to reaffirm America’s support for the protocol, which Mr Johnson agreed in 2019, and say it underpins the Good Friday peace agreement.
However, Mr Johnson is hoping to persuade Mr Biden to support his call for a more flexible interpretation of the protocol by the EU. Britain argues that the protocol, by hampering the flow of goods between the mainland the Northern Ireland, is going against the spirit of the Good Friday accord.
New DUP leader Edwin Poots accused the EU side of being “silent” about the damage to businesses caused by the protocol.