Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, said on Monday that the government required a “insurance” option to unilaterally remove post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, raising the possibility of a trade war with the EU.
Boris Johnson claims that the EU must make concessions on the regulations – known as the Northern Ireland protocol – in order to win over the province’s loyalist unionist community, and has threatened action that the EU claims will lead to a trade war.
Plans to introduce legislation to amend portions of the protocol, according to the prime minister, are only necessary if discussions with the EU to improve its operation fail.
“We would love for this to be done in a consensual way with our friends and partners, ironing out some of these problems,” Boris Johnson told reporters. “But to get that done, to have the insurance, we need to proceed with a legislative solution at the same time.”
Johnson agreed to the protocol in 2019 to allow Britain to leave the EU’s single market and customs union without reimposing controls on the Irish Republic-Northern Ireland border, which was a key feature of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that ended three decades of violence.
However, the scheme effectively created a customs border between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, which angered many unionists.
Another aspect of the peace agreement has been blocked by the dispute: power-sharing between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party, which it defeated in the election. Because of its resistance to the protocol, the DUP has prevented power-sharing.
All five of Northern Ireland’s main parties, according to Johnson, have issues with the protocol.
“None of the parties – I spoke to all five parties just now – not one of them likes the way it’s operating, they all think it can be reformed and improved,” he said.
Earlier, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald claimed her party had a “pretty difficult” conversation with Johnson, telling him that unilateral action on Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade regulations would be wrong.
McDonald, whose party, which advocates a united Ireland and is now the region’s largest after a recent election, claimed Johnson did not provide details of any proposed legislation that would essentially repeal elements of the agreement.
Following talks with Boris Johnson in Northern Ireland, McDonald told reporters, “We’ve had what we would describe as a somewhat harsh meeting with the prime minister.”
“We have said directly to him that the proposed unilateral act of legislating at Westminster is wrong. It seems to us absolutely extraordinary that the British government would propose to legislate to break the law.”
The EU has stated that renegotiating the protocol is not a possibility, but it is willing to collaborate in order to provide long-term certainty.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson told reporters that he hoped the government will do the right thing and assist restore peace in Northern Ireland. “I will judge these things based on actions, not just words,” he stated.