Minster confirms UK will tear up NI protocol if no alternative reached with EU

11 May 2022, 19:46 | Updated: 11 May 2022, 20:45

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Minister Conor Burns has said the UK will take unilateral action to override the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland if they cannot resolve issues with the European Union.

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The Northern Ireland secretary did not deny that such legislation could be drawn up by next week as he was grilled on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr.

He said: "If the EU are saying to us that... there's nothing more to talk about, then we will have to take actions to prioritise stability in Northern Ireland, powersharing in Northern Ireland, to protect the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and that will mean intervention unilaterally."

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It is thought the legislation would unilaterally override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, removing the need for checks on goods being sent from Britain.

Businesses in Northern Ireland could disregard EU rules and regulations and remove the power of the European Court of Justice to rule on issues relating to the region.

The protocol was agreed by Boris Johnson in 2019 and such legislation would breach the UK's obligations under the Brexit agreement, potentially sparking a trade war against the backdrop of the invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Burns insisted the Government wanted "to get this sorted in negotiation with our European friends and allies, we are convinced there was a landing zone".

But he added: "We have to be very clear that we have to prioritise the political stability in Northern Ireland."

He said checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland were "a huge problem for Northern Ireland".

He said: "There's a lot of companies based in Great Britain who have decided that it is too expensive, too burdensome, too bureaucratic to continue to supply to the Northern Ireland marketplace and that seeing very well-known products, loved products disappearing from the shelves in Northern Ireland.

"Our ask of the EU is really quite simple. We think there must be a way where we can have different levels of checks for goods that are destined for the Northern Ireland marketplace, for consumption and sale in Northern Ireland, and those that are destined for onward transmission to the European single market in the Republic of Ireland to the south."

The Prime Minister said earlier the Good Friday Agreement is more important than the protocol and dismissed suggestions of any possible escalatory response from the EU as "crazy".

He said the protocol fails to command support from unionists in the region, adding "we need to sort it out" despite warnings from Joe Biden and European leaders not to single-handedly meddle with the agreement he brokered.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has stressed "no-one should unilaterally cancel, break or in any way attack the settlement".

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is set to tell the EU the dispute over Northern Ireland cannot drag on, after warning she will "not shy away" from taking action as she accused the EU of proposing solutions that would "take us backwards".

Ms Truss is also expected to reiterate the risk to the Good Friday Agreement in a call with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic on Thursday.

Minister Michael Gove told LBC on Wednesday he is "super cool" with threats to tear up the protocol.

Asked how angry he is about it on a scale of one to 10, Mr Gove said: "Minus five. I'm super cool with it and I'm a big, big Liz Truss fan."

Downing Street backed Ms Truss in claiming that some EU proposals are "a backwards step", but declined to say whether preparations have been made for a possible trade war with the bloc.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I think we're getting ahead of ourselves.

"We want nothing but good relations with our EU partners, but I'm not going to get into speculation about what might happen down the line."

He said "some relatively minor concessions" from the EU in the past "show that, where there was willing, change could be achieved".