The EU has accused the UK of not correctly explaining the consequences of Brexit to businesses as the two sides clashed over the Northern Ireland protocol.
Michel Barnier hit out at the government as he insisted the withdrawal terms it sought – not the checks introduced on Irish Sea trade – are to blame for empty shelves in supermarkets.
The criticism came ahead of crisis talks between the two sides in London, which drew to a close with both sides reiterating their commitment to “the proper implementation” of the protocol.
Michael Gove was expected in the meeting to request a two-year delay to further checks on food supplies – a suggestion the EU side had been expected to turn down.
A joint statement said Mr Gove and the European Commission’s vice president Maros Sefcovic had had a “frank but constructive discussion” on Thursday evening, in which they agreed to “spare no effort” in implementing solutions.
The two politicians agreed to convene the joint committee no later than 24 February to provide “the necessary political steer” and approval to this work “in the spirit of collaboration, responsibility and pragmatism”.
Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney described the meeting as a “good day’s work”, tweeting: “Focus now is on EU/UK cooperation to implement what’s been agreed in Protocol and to work on solutions to outstanding issues linked to implementation.”
But the cordial statement was preceded by stern words from across the channel. Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Barnier said: “The difficulties on the island of Ireland are caused by Brexit, not by the Protocol,” adding that “the Protocol is the solution”.
And, on the blizzard of new red tape for all post-Brexit trade, the chief Brexit negotiator added: “Many of these consequences have not been correctly explained, they have been generally underestimated.”
“Brexit means Brexit,” he told a European Business Summit event, stealing the slogan coined by Theresa May, when she sought hard exit terms.