Boris Johnson is battling to avoid a sausage trade war with Brussels which could see chilled meats barred from shops in Northern Ireland from the end of this month.
Calling for common sense from Brussels, Lord Frost claims time is short and threats of legal action and trade retaliation won’t help shoppers or small businesses in Northern Ireland.
Speaking ahead of the talks, he said: “Today’s historic first meeting of the UK-EU Partnership Council marks an important milestone in our new relationship as friendly trading partners and sovereign equals.
“Along with the Joint Committee, I hope this will be a productive forum where we can address shared challenges by working together in the spirit of mutual trust and cooperation.
“First among these challenges is the damaging impact the Protocol is having on the ground in Northern Ireland.
“Businesses in Great Britain are choosing not to sell their goods into Northern Ireland because of burdensome paperwork, medicine manufacturers are threatening to cut vital supplies, and chilled meats from British farmers destined for the Northern Ireland market are at risk of being banned entirely.
“When I meet Maros Sefcovic later today my message will be clear: time is short and practical solutions are needed now to make the Protocol work.”
Lord Frost added: “Our overriding shared priority must be to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and the peace process.
“I look to the EU to show flexibility and engage with our proposals so that we can find solutions that enjoy the confidence of all communities.”
The row is over the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit arrangement which is designed to keep the Irish border open by ensuring the province continues to follow EU trading rules.
Mr Johnson is threatening to extend unilaterally a grace period – due to expire on 30 June – which means chilled meats produced in the mainland can currently be sent to Northern Ireland.
But ahead of his talks with Lord Frost, European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic this week threatened to retaliate “swiftly, firmly and resolutely” with a ban on selling sausages and mince.
Yet speaking as he arrived in London at St Pancras station, Mr Sefcovic said: “I’m coming in a constructive spirit. I think we are approaching the crossroads where we can have two possible routes.
“One is road of co-operative, joint action, and constructive, engagement. The other will lead us to the more difficult situation which will be generated by further unilateral actions.
“Therefore I hope that with Lord Frost we find more of the solutions to clearly opt for the first path, because only that will bring us to the long-lasting solutions and not quick fixes.
“This is the spirit of my mind in which I’m coming to London, which I hope I will find on the other side as well.”
The sausage showdown comes at a meeting of the Partnership Council and Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee being held at Admiralty House in London and jointly chaired by Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic.
On the eve of the talks, Mr Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leven discussed the deadlock over the Northern Ireland Protocol in a phone call.
“The prime minister set out that the UK is committed to finding practical solutions that protect the aims of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and minimise the impact on the lives of people in Northern Ireland,” said a No. 10 spokesperson.
“He underlined the need for quick progress.”
But Ms von der Leyen said she expressed her “deep concern” on the implementation of post-Brexit agreements in the call and tweeted: “We will discuss how to progress and ensure compliance in margins of G7.”
Ahead of the talks, Lord Frost warned Mr Sefcovic: “Further threats of legal action and trade retaliation from the EU won’t make life any easier for the shopper in Strabane who can’t buy their favourite product.
“Nor will it benefit the small business in Ballymena struggling to source produce from their supplier in Birmingham.
“What is needed is pragmatism and common sense solutions to resolve the issues as they are before us. This work is important. And it is ever more urgent.
“It is only by making substantial progress across the whole range of difficulties that we can show people in Northern Ireland that the Protocol can work in a pragmatic, proportionate and sustainable way – as was always intended.”
Mr Sefcovic’s threat came in a Daily Telegraph article in which he wrote: “If the UK takes further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations.”
Hitting back, the Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News: “What we really need the EU to do is to respect that part of the protocol and put in place sensible measures to remove things like the nonsensical ban on selling sausages or chicken nuggets to Northern Ireland – not just requiring paperwork, but actually having an outright ban on some of those goods – that clearly doesn’t make sense.”