- "The current position of the protocol is not sustainable," Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told MPs in London.
LONDON: The UK's deal with the EU on post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland is not sustainable, a senior British minister said Wednesday, as a "sausage war" simmers between London and Brussels.
The "Northern Ireland Protocol" effectively keeps the territory in the European Union's customs union, and mandates port checks on goods such as chilled meats entering from mainland Britain, angering pro-UK unionists.
"The current position of the protocol is not sustainable," Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told MPs in London.
Brussels is angry that London has refused to implement checks on certain goods entering Northern Ireland, instead unilaterally imposing a grace period which it now wants extended.
The protocol "is causing issues for businesses and consumers, citizens in Northern Ireland, and we need to rectify that", Lewis said.
"We do want to get it done. I'm optimistic and confident we will get that done in the period ahead," he added.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Wednesday that a deal would be reached next week with the EU, allowing an extension on the UK's current grace period for checks on chilled meats, which runs out June 30.
"There's no final decision on this," a Downing Street spokesman responded. "The discussions are ongoing and we're looking to come to a resolution."
EU sources said that Brussels was not averse to an extension, but needed to discuss it in detail with the UK.
Last week, Britain's Brexit minister David Frost said that such a delay on checks would "provide a bit of a breathing space for the current discussions".
Lewis said that London has proposed "very flexible solutions" on disputed issues including pet travel and chilled meats, but "we've had no reciprocity yet".
The protocol was a compromise agreed by both sides as part of Britain's Brexit withdrawal from the EU, to comply with Northern Ireland's 1998 peace pact, which requires no return of border checks with EU member state Ireland.
Discontent over the deal fuelled a week of rioting in April which spread from unionist communities in Northern Ireland into pro-Irish nationalist enclaves, and saw at least 88 police injured.
Amid the tensions, Northern Ireland's pro-UK Democratic Unionist Party was in disarray, naming its third leader in under a month on Tuesday.