The prime minister has rejected claims the government’s plans to unilaterally suspend parts of the Northern Ireland protocol could breach international law.
His remarks come ahead of today’s anticipated publication of the government’s Northern Ireland protocol bill.
The draft legislation plans to allow UK ministers to scrap parts of the region’s post-Brexit arrangements.
The protocol was implemented to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the wake of Brexit by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods. It has been heavily criticised by unionist groups for allegedly undermining the union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which remains outside the EU customs union.
Earlier today environment secretary George Eustice claimed that the deal is a “serious threat” to peace in the region.
Eustice also suggested that the UK government had been forced to act via legislation due to failure of EU talks, telling Sky News: “Obviously when the bill is introduced we will set out the legal basis for that and the attorney general has been involved closely with this and has given her advice on it.
“But the crucial thing is we have to make this Northern Ireland protocol work properly because at the moment it is a serious threat to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and we don’t have the inter-ministerial committees meeting which is supposed to bring together politicians on both sides of the Irish border, Stormont is not sitting and trade from GB to Northern Ireland is being severely affected.
“So we have to get a durable solution to this. We have been trying very hard with the European Union to get them to discuss, they are refusing to even change their mandate and so we have to basically give clarity about what the protocol means, how it should be interpreted. Only the UK can do that.”
Speaking to LBC this morning, Boris Johnson denied that the plans breach international law.
Johnson stressed that the UK maintains a “higher and prior legal commitment as a country is to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement”.
He also said that it would be a “gross overreaction” for the EU to pursue a trade war should the plans go ahead, as they are to be a “relatively trivial set of adjustments” to the current border rules.
Former DExEU permanent secretary Philip Rycroft told Times Radio that the bill was an “unwise” gambit because of its relative triviality.
Last week it was reported that ministers were rowing over whether to support the plans.
In May’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections, Irish nationalist party Sinn Féin became the largest party for the first time in its history, with the DUP coming runners up.
While Sinn Féin was once firmly opposed to the European Union, it is now in favour of keeping the Protocol the UK negotiated with the bloc in place.
However a functioning Executive is yet to be formed in Northern Ireland, as the DUP are refusing to nominate deputy ministers until “decisive action” is taken on the Protocol.
The Times today report that UK ministers are demanding that the DUP re-establish full power-sharing with their nationalist rivals before they implement the plans to override swathes of the protocol.
Earlier today EU Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said he had spoken with Liz Truss, and that she “informed me of legislation to unilaterally disapply the Protocol. The EU has always paid utmost attention to the impact Brexit has on NI, offering workable solutions. Unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust & a formula for uncertainty.”