At an EU summit today, the bloc will warn against attempts to water down the Northern Ireland Protocol amid fears that the border plan is causing disruptions in the region. It comes as France accused Britain of playing games with the special arrangements to prevent a hard border. In draft conclusions, seen by Express.co.uk, EU leaders say: “Relations with the UK should remain mutually beneficial and can under no circumstances undermine the integrity of the Single Market, the Customs Union or the EU’s decision-making autonomy.”
This is seen as a nod to Prime Minister Mr Johnson’s attempts to eliminate trade checks in the Irish Sea introduced by his 2019 Brexit divorce deal.
Under the terms of the agreement, to avoid a hard border, Northern Ireland essentially remains inside the EU’s single market, with a number of customs controls on goods shipped from the rest of Great Britain.
The arrangements were partially blamed for a recent spate of violence in the regions, with Loyalist communities fearful that their place in the UK is being undermined.
Brexit minister Lord Frost has been working with his EU counterparts to reduce the frictions caused by the Northern Ireland protocol.
But last week he admitted talks between Brussels and London on implementing the border arrangements have not been “hugely productive”.
Tensions are mounting ahead of the summer marching season, with Downing Street setting a July 12 deadline for the easing of trade checks in the Irish Sea.
In a stinging attack on Britain, France has ordered London to be “responsible” over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Hardline Europe minister Clement Beaune said: “We cannot accept that there is a political game with such a sensitive issue.
“This is a central piece of European stability, you cannot play with this. We will never play with that. But we cannot accept that the protocol is taken lightly by any party.”
He added: “So I’m just saying, and we are discussing it, of course, with the British side, do not play with the protocol.”
MUST READ: EU crisis: New Finnish finance chief threatens to veto EU debt union
Mr Beaune said: “The protocol is not a problem. The protocol is the solution to border problems that were created by Brexit.”
The Frenchman, a close ally of President Emmanuel Macron, has recently held talks on the issue with colleagues from Ireland and the Netherlands.
Last week Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said attempts to unilaterally override the post-Brexit rules for Northern Ireland would be a “disaster”.