And with the fight against the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has warned a drawn-out dispute is “not what the world needs right now”. Mrs Okonjo-Iweala was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Cornwall, with the row over the contentious rules for Northern Ireland threatening to overshadow the event.
The UK is objecting to the sheer number of checks required on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
With neither side backing down, there appears little prospect of any imminent resolution, a fact underlined by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who warned he was ready to do “whatever it takes”, including triggering Article 16, which would disapply the protocol.
Speaking after Mr Johnson’s comments, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala struck a concerned tone.
She said: “I would really, really hope that a UK-EU trade war will not take place.
“With all the opportunities there are too for dialogue, I would be a little surprised if we ended up with a UK-EU trade war.
“It’s too costly for both sides. This is not what the world needs right now.”
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Earlier today, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted: “The Good Friday Agreement & peace on the island of Ireland are paramount.
“We negotiated a Protocol that preserves this, signed & ratified by the UK and the EU.
“We want the best possible relations with the UK.
“Both sides must implement what we agreed on. There is complete EU unity on this.”
Mr Johnson then threw down the gauntlet, telling Sky News: “I think we can sort it out but it is up to our EU friends and partners to understand that we will do whatever it takes.
“I think if the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16.
“I’ve talked to some of our friends here today, who do seem to misunderstand that the UK is a single country, a single territory. I just need to get that into their heads.”
A No 10 spokesman said that in his talks with the EU leaders, Mr Johnson had stressed his wish for “pragmatism and compromise on all sides” while emphasising the need to protect the Northern Ireland peace process.
The spokesman added: “The Prime Minister underlined the UK’s position on the Northern Ireland Protocol and the need to maintain both the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the UK.
“The Prime Minister made it clear that the UK is committed to finding practical solutions within the framework of the protocol which protect the aims of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and minimise the impact on the day-to-day lives of people in Northern Ireland.”