BoJo Warns ‘There’ll Be Necessity to Act’ if Brussels Doesn’t Change Its Stance on NI Protocol
05:45 GMT 16.05.2022 (Updated: 15:19 GMT 28.05.2023)
Last week, EU leaders warned of retaliatory measures if the UK unilaterally suspends or changes the Northern Ireland Protocol. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney stressed that Brussels doesn’t want a trade war with London, but added that there would be a “consequence” if the UK breaches its Brexit obligations.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reiterated his resolve to stand firm on its threat to ditch parts of the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol if Brussels does not back down amid UK-EU tensions on the issue.
In an article for the Belfast Telegraph on Sunday, Johnson noted that the UK has “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”.
He promised that the UK “will keep the door open to genuine dialogue, and continue to protect the single market – as it has been throughout the existence of the Protocol – and the open border with the Republic of Ireland, which will always be of paramount importance”.
“Our shared objective must be to create the broadest cross-community support for a reformed Protocol in 2024. I hope the EU’s position changes. If it does not, there will be a necessity to act,” BoJo warned.
The remarks followed an unnamed government source telling the Daily Mail late last week that the UK prime minister will deliver a “tough message” to Northern Ireland's politicians to restore their power-sharing agreement during his visit to Belfast on Monday.
Johnson is due to sit down for crunch talks in Belfast after Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) blocked the election of a speaker at Stormont. The Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein outperformed the DUP in the 5 May Northern Ireland Assembly election for the first time, prodding unionists to warn they will boycott the new government unless post-Brexit trade rules with the EU are addressed.
The sources claimed that when in Northern Ireland, BoJo will use a number of private meetings to warn that any "fix" to the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol should stipulate the parties coming together to form an Executive and Assembly.
The PM is also expected to update Northern Ireland’s politicians on the UK’s latest negotiations with the EU over the NI Protocol, according to the sources. He will reportedly say that while the government “will always keep the door open to genuine dialogue”, there will be a “necessity to act” to protect the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) if Brussels does not change its position. The deal, also known as the Belfast Agreement, ended 30 years of violence in conflict-torn Northern Ireland, establishing devolved power-sharing in the area and a demilitarised Irish border.
Johnson previously made it clear that he was serious about his threats to rip up the NI Protocol, telling the Daily Mail that “there is the issue of the protocol” and that the government is “going to have to fix it”.
“And I think we can certainly fix it in a way that is in there that protects the EU single market totally, but stops totally unnecessary barriers to trade”, he said.
When asked if he was bluffing about overriding the agreement, the PM said, “I’m certainly not bluffing in my concern about Stormont and where we need to go. We need to get it back up and running”. He spoke amid reports that UK government ministers have drawn up a legislation to allow Britain to override elements of the protocol, a document which could be unveiled early next week and might lead to a trade war between the UK and the EU.
15 October 2021, 14:22 GMT
Brussels, in turn, accused London of issuing “threats and blackmail” after British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic during “tetchy” talks last week that the UK would have “no choice but to act” if the EU does not give in to demands to scale back customs checks.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, for his part, underscored in an interview with Sky News that “there’s no way the EU can compromise if the UK is threatening unilateral action to pass domestic legislation to set aside international obligations under an international treaty”.
This was preceded by Attorney General Suella Braverman, the UK government's chief legal adviser, declining to deny reports that she had already approved the scrapping of large parts of the protocol with an emergency legislation. She told the BBC that the need for UK action was “becoming painfully, apparently necessary”.
Under the NI protocol, Britain agreed to leave some EU rules in place in Northern Ireland and accept checks on goods arriving from elsewhere in the UK to preserve an open land border with EU member state Ireland as a key pillar of the peace process there, hailing back to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Unionists have repeatedly called for the protocol to be scrapped because of the trade barriers it has created on products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.