LONDON, May 10 — Post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland are unviable and need urgent reform to unblock the province’s power-sharing assembly, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said today.
Pro-UK unionists have vowed not to nominate ministers to the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast until the protocol governing trade is scrapped.
That has raised the prospect of paralysis at the legislature, just days after Sinn Fein nationalists became the biggest party for the first time.
Johnson and his government have repeatedly risked confrontation with the EU by threatening to trigger a suspension clause in the protocol, which keeps Northern Ireland largely in the European single market.
But with fresh talks looming to iron out difficulties, Johnson told his Irish counterpart Micheal Martin in a call that the situation was now “very serious”.
He told Martin that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland after 30 years of violence “was being undermined”, his office said.
Last week’s elections “further demonstrated that the protocol was not sustainable in its current form”, Downing Street said.
London’s position, at least verbally, backs the unionists, who claim that Irish Sea border checks put Northern Ireland’s place in the wider UK at risk.
Signed as part of the UK’s EU divorce, it imposes sweeping checks on goods heading from Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) to Northern Ireland.
The compromise was introduced to avoid the return of hard border infrastructure between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland to the south.
Keeping the border open was a key plank of the Good Friday Agreement.
The UK government has accused the EU of inflexibility, claiming that implementing the deal it signed to the letter is causing “economic and political disruption”.
European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, who is spearheading talks, has urged London to dial down the rhetoric after previously warning it risked a trade war if it acts on its own to pull the protocol.
Martin wrote on Twitter that he “stressed the need to intensify EU and UK discussions, and to avoid any unilateral action”.
But The Times reported today that Foreign Secretary Liz Truss could move to scrap large parts of the deal from British law by as early as next week.
The newspaper said officials had drawn up draft legislation to remove the need for checks on goods from Great Britain for use in the province.
If passed, Northern Irish companies could also ignore EU rules and regulations and strip the European Court of Justice of oversight powers on disputes, it added. — AFP