The DUP is threatening "guerrilla warfare" against the Northern Ireland protocol after rejecting Westminster calls to work towards defeating the Brexit clause during a review in three years.
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has urged unionists to “work through the democratic processes rather than withdraw consent from them” in their opposition to the mechanism.
His intervention follows the North’s Minister for Agriculture, the DUP’s Gordon Lyons, last week ordering a halt to construction of permanent facilities for post-Brexit checks on agri-food goods arriving from Britain.
While unionist tensions are mounting over the protocol’s impact, the SDLP and Sinn Féin have accused Mr Lyons of engaging in a stunt and insisted he has no authority to stop the works.
Mr Rees-Mogg told the Sunday Life newspaper that unionist parties should “unite in elections” on an anti-protocol ticket which could give them the “power to get rid of it in not too many years”.
The Stormont Assembly can vote on the protocol in 2024. The mechanism agreed by London and Brussels keeps the North in the EU single market through a de facto border in the Irish Sea, with checks and restrictions on goods arriving from Britain.
Mr Rees-Mogg said if unionists can win a majority in Stormont “then they can vote down the protocol”.
However, DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said his party “would not be kicking the issue down the road”.
“We will fight guerrilla warfare against this, until the big battle opportunity comes,” the East Antrim MP said.
“We will be challenging the government on a daily basis, telling them to do what they can now to undo the damage done to Northern Ireland.”
DUP Ministers at Stormont “will continue to refuse to implement it”, said Mr Wilson, and he expected the UK government would in those circumstances “instruct civil servants not to obey their Stormont Minister” which would “threaten a crisis in devolution”.
Mr Wilson suggested the unionist “hand is weakened” at Stormont in the 2024 review, because under the Withdrawal Agreement there is no need for cross-community backing for the protocol.
“If you consider the Alliance Party, SDLP, Sinn Féin, the Greens, and People Before Profit, etc, all agree with the protocol, it makes it more difficult [to gain a majority].”
DUP East Derry MP Gregory Campbell said anyone suggesting the protocol be dealt with in 2024 is “living in cloud-cuckoo land”.
“Our Ministers will be ensuring this can be brought to a head,” he said.
SDLP Brexit spokesman Matthew O’Toole said unionists “should be trying to sell the positive benefits [of the protocol] and attract inward investors” rather than “stoking up instability”.
“It seems to be not a very clever strategy for parties like the DUP, who have long claimed they are interested in making Northern Ireland thrive economically,” he said.
“We are unique in the continent in having access to both the European single market and the British market. We have an opportunity to carve out a competitive advantage here, they should be focusing on that.”