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Boris Johnson said the UK is ready to take measures if necessary to “fix” the deal with the EU governing post-Brexit trading arrangements with Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister claimed the Northern Ireland Protocol “does not command the confidence of a large part” of the population in the province.
His comments come after a Government minister issued a fresh warning that the UK could unilaterally suspend elements of Northern Ireland Protocol.
Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns refused to be drawn on a report by the Financial Times that ministers are preparing legislation giving them sweeping powers to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement.
“The protocol really does not command the confidence of a large, large component of the population in Northern Ireland. We have to address that, we have to fix that,” Mr Johnson told a news conference in New Delhi.
“We think we can do it with some very simple and reasonable steps.
“We have talked repeatedly to our friends and partners in the EU. We will continue to talk to them.
“But as I have said many times now we don’t rule out taking steps now if those are necessary.”
The move by the British Government, which is likely to inspire anger among EU leaders, comes less than two weeks before the Northern Ireland Assembly election on May 5.
Unionist parties in the region have consistently declared their opposition to the protocol, which they argue cuts off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
The Government reserves the right, as we have always said, as laid down in the protocol, to take remedial action
Conor Burns, Northern Ireland minister
Mr Burns said it is clear the arrangements are not working in the way that was intended and the Government already has powers under Article 16 of the protocol allowing it to suspend elements of it.
He told LBC radio: “As far back as last July the Prime Minister said that we believed that the threshold for triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol had been reached.
“There is significant societal disruption in Northern Ireland due to the way that the protocol is being implemented.
“I hope Brussels are listening to this conversation and other conversations.
“I hope they will come back to the table constructively to allow us to change the protocol to make it work in the way it was intended.
“If they don’t hear that, then the Government reserves the right, as we have always said, as laid down in the protocol, to take remedial action.”
The UK Government has so far resisted calls from unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland to trigger Article 16.
Labour’s Peter Kyle condemned the reported plan, and questioned how Mr Johnson can negotiate a trade deal with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the same time.
The shadow Northern Ireland secretary told Sky News: “This is absolutely astonishing and incredibly damaging.
“Boris Johnson negotiated, his team drafted the Northern Ireland Protocol; they presented it to the EU, they negotiated it into the deal.
“It doesn’t work as well as it can do, that’s why the Labour policy is, you build on it, we can improve the protocol, we can smooth it, and we can do so without breaking the law and breaking our international treaty we signed with the EU.
“If we just recklessly pull out of it unilaterally, how will any other country in the world sign a deal with us and think that we will honour it?
“How will prime minister Modi react today when Boris Johnson asks for a trade deal if he is pulling out unilaterally of the last trade deal he signed?”