Updated 1 hour ago
UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has said the UK is ready to take action if necessary to “fix” the agreement with the EU governing post-Brexit trade deals with Northern Ireland.
Johnson claimed the Northern Ireland protocol “does not command the confidence of a large part” of the province’s population.
His comments come after a government minister issued a fresh warning that the UK could unilaterally suspend elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Northern Ireland Minister Conor Burns has refused to be fired at a Financial Times report that ministers are preparing legislation giving them sweeping powers to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement .
“The protocol really does not command the confidence of a very large part of the population of Northern Ireland. We have to solve this problem, we have to solve this problem,” Johnson told a news conference in New Delhi.
“We think we can do it in a few very simple and reasonable steps.
“We spoke several times to our friends and partners in the EU. We will continue to talk to them.
“But as I’ve said many times now, we don’t rule out taking action now if it’s needed.”
The British government’s decision, which is expected to inspire the wrath of European leaders, comes less than two weeks before the Northern Ireland Assembly elections on May 5.
Unionist parties in the region have consistently declared their opposition to the protocol, which they say cuts off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Burns said it was clear the arrangements were not working as intended and the government already had powers under Article 16 of the protocol to suspend certain elements of them.
He told LBC radio: “As early as last July, the Prime Minister said that we believe the trigger point for Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol has been reached.
“There is significant societal disruption in Northern Ireland due to the way the protocol is implemented.
“I hope Brussels listens to this conversation and other conversations.
“I hope they come back to the table in a constructive way to allow us to change the protocol so that it works as intended.
“If they don’t hear that, then the government reserves the right, as we’ve always said, as provided in the protocol, to take corrective action.”
The UK government has so far resisted calls from trade unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland to trigger Article 16.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said plans to drop elements of the protocol were part of efforts to bolster Johnson’s position within the Tories as the party rumbles.
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“Reports that the UK government is preparing to introduce new legislation that would unilaterally remove elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol clearly demonstrate that this government simply cannot be trusted,” Eastwood said.
It won’t come as much shock in Northern Ireland that Boris Johnson is desperate to distract from the political turmoil he’s going through and is ready to throw us under the bus to do so.
“It is about strengthening his position with the intransigent ERG and strengthening the position of the DUP before an election. On May 5, Johnson will once again dump Jeffrey and the DUP. They never learn.
Labour’s Peter Kyle condemned the announced plan and wondered how Boris Johnson could negotiate a trade deal with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the same time.
Northern Ireland’s shadow secretary told Sky News: “This is absolutely stunning and incredibly damaging.
“Boris Johnson negotiated, his team drafted the Northern Ireland protocol; they presented it to the EU, they negotiated it in the agreement.
“It’s not working as well as it can, that’s why labor policy is, you build on it – we can improve the protocol, we can smooth it out, and we can do it without breaking the law and breaking our international treaty we signed with the EU.
“If we recklessly pull out unilaterally, how will any other country in the world sign a deal with us and think we’ll honor it?”
“How will Prime Minister Modi react today when Boris Johnson asks for a trade deal if he unilaterally pulls out of the latest trade deal he signed?”
Additional reporting by Tadgh McNally