Boris Johnson has walked into a diplomatic row with one of the UK’s closest allies after claiming the prime minister of the Netherlands had been seeking to “mediate” between Brussels and London over the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.
Speaking to reporters on a plane to New York for a meeting of the UN general assembly, the prime minister suggested the Dutch government was looking to act as a mediator between the European Commission and London on the differences that have arisen in recent months.
“I talked to Mark Rutte [the Dutch PM] the other night, who wanted to come and see if he could mediate on the issue and I said, you know, we really want to make progress,” Johnson had said. “We seek a solution, but it has to be one that allows the free movement of goods between all parts of our country.”
Dutch diplomatic sources expressed surprise at the prime minister’s comments, insisting that Rutte had instead specifically urged Johnson to be pragmatic in his dealings with the European Commission.
The EU’s executive branch has been tasked by member states with ensuring the UK implements the withdrawal agreement, including the Northern Ireland protocol setting out the post-Brexit border arrangements. Dutch sources rejected any suggestion that the commission was being sidelined through bilateral discussions or that there was a division among the 27 member states on the issue.
“The [Dutch] prime minister called on Boris Johnson to be constructive, pragmatic and engage with the commission,” a Dutch diplomatic source said of last week’s meeting between the two leaders. “Both the UK and EU share the responsibility to make the protocol as negotiated and ratified on both sides of the Channel work for the people in Northern Ireland.”
The latest spat comes at a difficult time for UK-EU relations with the European Commission and the union’s 27 member states.