Boris Johnson has said a legal decision to drop parts of the North Ireland The protocol is just an ‘insurance’ policy, as it emerged that the controversial legislation had been delayed for a few weeks.
Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, is expected to make a combative statement on Tuesday threatening to introduce the bill, after a cabinet discussion on Northern Ireland.
However, the timing of the bills has now slipped, with the text now only promised before the summer recess, sources in Whitehall say.
The Prime Minister came under heavy criticism from all quarters on Monday when he traveled to Belfast in a bid to revive the devolved government in Stormont, amid the continuing row over protocol.
One of the main sticking points is the protocol aligning Northern Ireland’s trade with the EU rather than the rest of the UK, with the DUP refusing to return to power sharing without major changes.
During his visit, Johnson said he was engaged in negotiations with the EU on the protocol, but would not drag his feet on potential legislation if the talks did not yield a solution.
He said: “We would like this to be done in a consensual way with our friends and partners, ironing out the issues, stopping some of these east-west barriers.
“But to achieve that, to have the assurance, we also need to adopt a legislative solution.”
Johnson said the UK did not want to ‘give up’ the Northern Ireland protocol but believed it could be ‘fixed’.
He told broadcasters on a trip to Belfast: ‘We don’t want to take it down. But we think it can be fixed. And in fact, five of the five parties I spoke to today also think it needs reform.
No 10 did not appear to be as keen as Truss on the option of legislation to undermine protocol in recent days.
A diplomatic source said one of the prime minister’s top aides had privately told people the government was very engaged in negotiations and no decision had been taken to move the legislation forward.
Within the UK’s Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU, the Northern Ireland protocol lays out arrangements that effectively keep Northern Ireland in the single market, drawing a customs border between it and the rest of the UK, with checks on goods passing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
That means there is no requirement for checks across the UK’s land border with Ireland. The 1998 Northern Ireland peace deal requires keeping the land border open and that there be no new infrastructure such as cameras and border posts.
However. both the British government and the European Union recognise that the implementation of this deal has triggered the disruption of supply chains, increased costs and reduced choice for consumers in Northern Ireland.
The rules means that goods such as milk and eggs have to be inspected when they arrive in Northern Ireland from mainland Britain, while some produce, such as chilled meats, cannot be imported at all. This is because the EU does not want to risk them entering the single market over the land border and then being transported on.
What is article 16?
Article 16 is an emergency brake in the Irish protocol, that allows either side to take unilateral action if the protocol is causing “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist”, or diversion of trade. Serious difficulties are not defined, giving both sides leeway for interpretation.This would launch a process defined in the treaty as “consultations … with a view to finding a commonly acceptable solution”. Article 16 is meant to be a temporary timeout, not an escape hatch.