Boris warns EU: ‘We’ll act if you don’t change’

Northern Ireland Protocol 'is working' says Jones

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Mr Johnson said in the Belfast Telegraph that many things have changed since the Protocol was agreed: “It was designed before a global pandemic and a European war which has created a cost-of-living crisis on a scale not seen for half a century.”

The Prime Minister challenged Brussels to accept that changes can be made: “We have been told by the EU that it is impossible to make the changes to the Protocol text to actually solve these problems in negotiations – because there is no mandate to do so.”

“We will always keep the door wide open to genuine dialogue. And we will continue to protect the single market – as it has been protected throughout the existence of the Protocol so far  and the open border with the Republic of Ireland which will always be of paramount importance.”

“There is without question a sensible landing spot in which everyone’s interests are protected. Our shared objective must be to create the broadest possible cross-community support for a reformed Protocol in 2024.”

He told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “There has been a lot of talk, a lot of threats, about what the EU will or won’t do. That is up to them.”

“As far as I am concerned, our primary duty as the British Government is to look after political stability in Northern Ireland. If that means relooking at the Protocol, we absolutely have to do that.”

“I think this talk of a trade war is irresponsible and I think it is completely getting ahead of ourselves.”

“It is up to the EU. We think it would be completely self-defeating if they went into a trade war, but that is up to them.”

During his visit, Mr Johnson will tell Northern Ireland’s leaders that any move to change post-Brexit trade rules must also restore power-sharing at Stormont.

Following the May 5 election, the anti-protocol Democratic Unionist Party has refused to engage with the assembly.

A new administration cannot be formed without them.

The prime minister is expected to say there is “no substitute for strong local leadership”.

“I hope the EU’s position changes. If it does not, there will be a necessity to act. The Government has a responsibility to provide assurance that the consumers, citizens and businesses of Northern Ireland are protected in the long term. We will set out a more detailed assessment and next steps to Parliament in the coming days”.

Brussels has made clear that such unilateral action to walk away from a key plank of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement would represent a clear breach of international law.

Hinting at possible trade wars, Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said there would be a “consequence” if the UK’s actions created significant uncertainty on the island of Ireland.

But Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng played down the prospect of the dispute ending in a bitter trade war between London and Brussels.

He will urge members of the Stormont assembly to “get back to work to deal with the bread-and-butter issues”.

The protocol, a part of the UK-EU Brexit deal which keeps Northern Ireland aligned with the EU single market for goods, puts a trade border in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It was designed to ensure free trade could continue across the Irish land border, but it has been opposed by unionist politicians.

The DUP has warned that actions rather than words are required from the Government to break the Stormont deadlock.

Ahead of Mr Johnson’s visit party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “The Prime Minister’s visit to Northern Ireland is a recognition that the protocol is not working and is harmful to Northern Ireland. Those problems must be addressed.”

“We await to hear what the Prime Minister has to say, but we will not make judgments based on words. It is decisive action that must be taken. The problems have been clearly identified and I have set out seven tests against which action will be judged.”

“Until that action is taken, the consensus necessary for powersharing in Northern Ireland does not exist. We respect the mandate received by other parties but equally, they must recognise the clear view expressed by the unionist electorate.”

“We have been waiting a long time for this moment and unionism has been both reasonable and patient.”

The Stormont election saw Sinn Fein displace the DUP to become the overall largest party in Northern Ireland for the first time.

The DUP remains the largest unionist party in the region and, under Stormont rules, a new executive cannot be formed unless it agrees to nominate to the post of deputy first minister.

The DUP has also blocked the nomination of a new Assembly speaker, meaning the legislature at Parliament Buildings in Belfast cannot meet while the impasse continues.

Sinn Fein, which is now entitled to the first minister’s role, has accused the DUP of holding the people of Northern Ireland to ransom by not allowing Stormont to function in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.

£850m annual cost of ‘trade-damaging’ deal

Britain can take unilateral action to overhaul the Northern Ireland Protocol because it is failing to deliver on its key objectives, says a report.

The Institute of Economic Affairs states that it is damaging trade – something the agreement was designed to avoid – and is costing around £850million per year.

Between January and March, 2021 checks on goods from Great Britain at ports in Northern Ireland represented 20 percent of all checks carried out at the EU’s borders – more than for any member state.

This is despite Northern Ireland’s population being 0.5 percent of the EU’s. 

The IEA says the EU should consider the UK’s July 2021 plan to renegotiate the framework and the Protocol relating to trade in goods.

The EU should be open to this argues the IEA and says the EU’s proposals would make things worse. 

Former Brexit minister Lord Frost called the report “timely” and said it “underlines the costs of the current situation – economic, fiscal and in trade diversion”. 

Victoria Hewson, the report’s author, said: “Power sharing and north/south cooperation have broken down.”

“The Protocol is not fulfilling the intentions of the parties, and it cannot be right to simply repeat that the UK entered into it voluntarily and should be held to its terms, while the people of Northern Ireland suffer adverse effects.” 

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