Boris Johnson will hold talks with the European Union’s key players on Saturday as the dispute over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements threatened to derail his hosting of the G7 summit.
The Prime Minister will meet European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, European Council head Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the margins of the gathering in Cornwall.
The main summit agenda will see the leaders commit to a new plan aimed at preventing a repeat of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The leaders of the UK, US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Italy will close the day with a barbecue on the beach, with entertainment provided by a Cornish sea shanty group and a Red Arrows flypast.
But before then Mr Johnson faces a potentially tricky series of meetings with the EU’s senior representatives at the summit.
Downing Street has indicated the UK would be prepared to unilaterally delay the full implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol in order to prevent a ban on chilled meats crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.
Restrictions on British-produced chilled meats entering Northern Ireland are due to come into force at the end of the month.
Delaying those checks without Brussels’ agreement risks triggering a “sausage war” trade dispute, with the EU threatening to respond to any breach of the deal signed by the Prime Minister.
Mr Johnson has suggested the EU is taking an “excessively burdensome” approach to post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.
The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market in order to avoid a hard border with Ireland, meaning a trade barrier in the Irish Sea for goods crossing from Great Britain.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters in Cornwall the immediate priority was to find “radical and urgent solutions within the protocol”.
But “we keep all options on the table”, he added, indicating the possibility of a unilateral extension of the current grace period to allow sausages to continue to be shipped across the Irish Sea.
Downing Street played down expectations of Mr Johnson finding a resolution to the impasse at the Carbis Bay summit.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman suggested the G7 meeting was “not the forum in which he is necessarily seeking to come up with an immediate solution” to the issue.
At a press conference ahead of the G7 summit, Mrs von der Leyen insisted the protocol is the “only solution” to prevent a hard border with the Republic and must be implemented in full.
Mr Macron also warned the Brexit deal cannot be renegotiated.
The main business of the summit will see the leaders discuss building resilience to future crises, consider foreign policy and then decide on their response to Covid-19.
Leaders from the G7 will commit to a new plan – the Carbis Bay Declaration – to quash future pandemics within the first 100 days.
The UK will also create a new animal vaccine centre aimed at preventing future diseases crossing from creatures to humans.
As part of Mr Johnson’s “Global Britain” agenda the leaders of South Korea, India, Australia and South Africa will also take part in the summit events, expanding the G7 to take in other prominent democracies.
At the end of the day, the leaders attending the event – India’s Narendra Modi will only participate remotely because of the coronavirus crisis in his country – will relax with a barbecue on the beach cooked by Simon Stallard, chef at the Hidden Hut in Portscatho.
They will be served sirloin and lobster and can then enjoy hot buttered rum and toasted marshmallows around fire pits on the beach.
Sea shanty group Du Hag Owr will provide the musical accompaniment to the event.