LONDON, May 12 — The UK will have “no choice but to act” unless the EU agrees to change post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland, foreign minister Liz Truss said today. 

Political tensions have risen in the UK province after elections last week saw pro-Irish nationalists Sinn Fein become the biggest party for the first time and now bid to lead a power-sharing executive.

But pro-UK unionists, who believe the Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland protocol is driving a wedge between the province and mainland Great Britain, are refusing to join the executive until it is changed.

Truss spoke to European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic on Thursday, telling him that the situation was “a matter of internal peace and security for the United Kingdom.

If the EU does not “show the requisite flexibility to help solve those issues, then as a responsible government we would have no choice but to act,” she said. 

London has repeatedly said it is prepared to trigger the agreement’s Article 16 suspension clause unless the deal it signed up to is changed — a move the EU has warned could lead to a wider trade war.

Either party can invoke the article if it believes the protocol is leading to “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist”.

The UK government says that checks on goods heading from to Northern Ireland from England, Scotland and Wales are undermining peace in the province, with unionists protests already turning violent.

Separate trading arrangements for Northern Ireland making the province bound by many European rules were agreed because the province has the UK’s only land border with the EU. 

Keeping the border open with neighbouring Ireland, an EU member, was mandated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of violence over British rule.

Truss told Sefcovic that the UK’s priority was “to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland”. 

“She also noted that the current situation was causing unacceptable disruption to trade and had created a two-tier system where people in Northern Ireland weren’t being treated the same as everyone else in the UK,” according to a read out of the phone call released by her office.

Truss added that the EU “bore a responsibility to show more pragmatism and ensure the Protocol delivered on its original objectives,” claiming that the government had proposed measures to remove trade barriers within the UK while protecting the EU single market.

Sefcovic told Truss that the EU would not expand its negotiating mandate or introduce new proposals to alter the protocol, the UK government said. — AFP