Boris Johnson has said his plan to legislate to tear up the protocol is an ‘insurance’ policy if a new deal cannot be struck with the European Union.
The row over the Northern Ireland protocol has created a stalemate in efforts to form a new executive at Stormont, with the DUP refusing to join a new administration unless its concerns over the arrangements are resolved.
The PM traveled to Belfast to meet Stormont party leaders in a bid to secure progress – but Mr Johnson also used the trip to warn Brussels that the UK is ready to unilaterally rewrite the terms of the Brexit deal he signed.
The move could risk a trade war with the EU, but Mr Johnson is frustrated that talks with Brussels to resolve protocol issues have not progressed far enough.
“None of the parties – I spoke to all five parties just now – none of them like the way it works, they all think it can be reformed and improved,” Mr Johnson said. to journalists.
He said “we would like to see this done in a consensual way with our friends and partners” in Brussels, “ironing out the issues, stopping some of these barriers” to goods crossing the Irish Sea.
“But to achieve that, to have the assurance, we need to proceed with a legislative solution at the same time.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is expected to present plans for legislation to rewrite the protocol when she addresses MPs in Westminster on Tuesday.
The row over protocol has prevented the formation of a new executive, with Sinn Féin’s chairman accusing Mr Johnson of ‘placating’ the DUP on the issue.
Mr Johnson insisted he was encouraging the DUP to join a new administration, saying: ‘I think everyone should roll up their sleeves and get stuck in the government of Northern Ireland.’
He added: “The problem they have is that they object to the way the protocol works. We don’t want to remove it, but we think it can be fixed.
Mr Johnson was jeered and jeered at by around 200 people who gathered at the gates of Hillsborough Castle as his cavalcade arrived.
Demonstrators, including Irish language campaigners, victims campaigners and anti-Brexit campaigners, were among the crowd waving banners.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the standoff between the UK and EU could only be resolved through “substantive talks” between the two sides.
Republic Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who was in Brussels yesterday for talks with his EU counterparts, has warned that the whole trade and co-operation agreement between the UK and the EU – the ATT – could be compromised if Mr Johnson takes unilateral action on the protocol.
Acting unilaterally “means tension, rancor, stalemates, legal challenges and of course calls into question the functioning of the ACT itself, because the ACT and the Withdrawal Agreement are linked, they depend on the each other,” he said.
Mr Johnson says the protocol has upset the “delicate balance” of the Good Friday Agreement by undermining the East/West dynamic.
A majority of MPs in the newly elected Assembly represent parties that support keeping the protocol, as it offers Northern Ireland some protection against the negative economic consequences of Brexit.
They point to the unfettered access northern traders have to sell in the EU single market as a key benefit of the protocol.
But the new Assembly was unable to convene due to the DUP’s refusal to commit to the institutions until major changes to protocol were secured.
The Stormont election saw Sinn Féin displace the DUP to become Northern Ireland’s largest party for the first time.
The DUP remains the largest unionist party and, under Stormont rules, a new executive can only be formed if they agree to nominate for the post of Deputy Prime Minister.
The DUP has also blocked the appointment of a new Speaker of the Assembly, meaning the Parliament Buildings legislature cannot meet while the deadlock continues.
During yesterday’s visit, Mr Johnson also pledged to honor three pre-existing commitments: a blocked language and cultural package; ensure that women have full access to abortion services; and the introduction of new measures to deal with the legacy of the past.