Boris Johnson attack on ‘insane’ EU over Northern Ireland Protocol maddens Brussels

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Speaking about the Northern Ireland Protocol, Boris Johnson said: 'Frankly the EU is implementing this in an insane and pettifogging way and we need to sort it out'
Speaking about the Northern Ireland Protocol, Boris Johnson said: 'Frankly the EU is implementing this in an insane and pettifogging way and we need to sort it out'

Boris Johnson has accused the EU of implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol in "an insane and pettifogging" way in comments that risk infuriating Brussels during tough negotiations over the Irish Sea border.

Mr Johnson's comments at Prime Minister's Questions risk souring relations with the EU, which on Monday warned London to "maintain political goodwill" if it wanted a quick deal on the Brexit treaty.

His criticism also contrasts sharply with the more conciliatory tone that Liz Truss has adopted since she replaced Lord Frost as Brexit Secretary. His repeated threats to trigger Article 16 of the Protocol led the EU to warn it could cancel its trade deal with the UK.

It will also stoke fears in Brussels, and among EU capitals, that Mr Johnson will take a hard line over the Protocol to distract from the “partygate” scandal and shore up his base while there are questions over his leadership.

An EU diplomat told the Telegraph: “Maybe Boris Johnson had another party last night and he’s feeling a bit off? We don’t understand where these comments are coming from when we’ve been very generous with our offers on the protocol."

“Boris claiming this week someone else is insane is at the very least bad timing,” the diplomat said.

Mr Johnson said he supported "passionately" the indignation DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson felt over the Protocol.

"Frankly the EU is implementing this in an insane and pettifogging way and we need to sort it out," he said.

The UK accuses the protocol of having a chilling effect on British trade to Northern Ireland because of checks in the Irish Sea border to ensure goods meet EU standards.

Mr Johnson said he "never thought when we negotiated" the Protocol that there would be so many checks, which prevent the need for a hard land border with EU member Ireland.

He claimed that 200 businesses had stopped supplying Northern Ireland and some British food exports had been blocked.

Unionists fear the treaty is driving a wedge between the province and the rest of the UK.

The DUP claims that the Protocol is damaging the Northern Irish economy, which is contested by many who argue it will draw foreign investment to the country because it grants it access to both the UK and EU markets.

DUP falls behind Sinn Féin in polls

Sinn Féin has opened up an eight per cent lead over the DUP ahead of May’s Stormont election, according to a LucidTalk opinion poll for the Belfast Telegraph.

Sir Jeffrey, who has repeatedly threatened to collapse the assembly unless progress is made in Protocol talks, was the most unpopular Northern Irish political leader in the poll. Some 70 per cent of voters think he is doing a bad or awful job, including 54 per cent of Unionists

The UK and EU are negotiating to cut the number of checks on British goods meant solely for Northern Ireland. The UK and EU hope to cut a deal before the election to prevent it becoming a referendum on the Protocol.

Ms Truss and Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president, met in Brussels on Monday to discuss progress in the negotiations.

Liz Truss met with Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president, on Monday to discuss the progress of Protocol talks - John Thys
Liz Truss met with Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president, on Monday to discuss the progress of Protocol talks - John Thys

"Liz thinks there are serious issues with the Protocol and that it needs fixing. Her priority is protecting stability and peace in Northern Ireland," a source said.

Mr Sefcovic said the UK had to “maintain political goodwill” after the talks, and on Tuesday he described the Foreign Secretary as a “top notch” negotiator.

But diplomats from EU capitals are more pessimistic that a deal can be done while Mr Johnson is under pressure to resign over allegations of Covid rule-breaking.

“Our thinking is mostly that as long as the leadership issue is not settled one way or the other, the UK will not be ready to do serious business on Northern Ireland because each course of action might upset a different group in the Tory party,” said one diplomat.

“So the best path for leadership hopefuls like Truss as well as Boris might be to stay put right now and settle Protocol issues once the situation has stabilised.”

The diplomat added, “It might also be true that if Boris came to the conclusion that he can only survive by shoring up support among hard line Brexiteers he might still raise tensions over Protocol.”

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