Arlene Foster has accused Boris Johnson of a dereliction of duty after claiming he is not doing enough to address Irish Sea trade disruption.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister demanded action from the Prime Minister amid the continued fallout from the EU’s botched move to invoke a mechanism to suspend elements of the new trading arrangements.
The European Commission was forced into an embarrassing U-turn on Friday when it backtracked on an attempt to restrict the free flow of goods across the Irish border.
Senior European politicians have conceded it was a mistake to try to unilaterally suspend part of Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent the region being used as backdoor to move vaccines from the bloc into the UK.
The protocol, which governs the movement of goods in and out of Northern Ireland post-Brexit, was created to ensure continued free flow of trade across the Irish border.
It does so by moving regulatory and customs processes to the Irish Sea, with checks instead focused primarily on produce moving from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.
Some aspects of trade have experienced disruption since the protocol came into effect on December 31 and unionists have been calling for the UK Government to itself suspend elements of the protocol until the issues have been resolved.
Those calls have intensified after the EU’s own ill-fated suspension bid on Friday.
Mrs Foster said the EU had “lowered the bar” for triggering suspension, which is done by invoking Article 16 of the protocol.
The DUP leader said she did not accept that the Commission’s initial move on Friday was a mistake.
“It was absolutely an act of hostility and actually they have not ruled out using it again,” she told BBC Radio Ulster.
Mrs Foster said it was “patronising and offensive” to described the problems encountered by Northern Ireland businesses and consumers as “teething problems” and she called on Mr Johnson to act and move immediately to deploy Article 16.
“I have to say directly to the Prime Minister and to the UK Government that it is a dereliction of duty for a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to stand by and allow United Kingdom citizens to suffer and that is what he is allowing to do at present, so therefore action is absolutely needed,” she said.
While Article 16 suspends aspects of the protocol to facilitate negotiations on resolving the issues of concern, the First Minister wants the protocol binned altogether.
“There’s nothing positive to come from protocol,” she added.
Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard said the Commission’s “humbling climbdown” had ensured that “chaos” was averted.
“I think to be fair the EU were foolish, I think Friday’s actions were very reckless and were absolutely disproportionate,” he told Radio Ulster.
Mr Hazzard, whose party supports the protocol, accused Mrs Foster to trying to create a crisis, suggesting she was under pressure from hard-line unionists.
“Arlene and the DUP seem intent to stoke the flames going forward,” he said.
“I think that speaks more to their own internal political problems here than it does to the actual issue at hand.”