Trade barriers between Britain and the North as a result of Brexit must be "swept away and not replaced", Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted.
Speaking after a meeting on Monday with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic, Mr Donaldson also urged London to unilaterally suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol unless Brussels renegotiates it.
“My message was simple,” Mr Donaldson said following the virtual meeting. “The protocol has not worked. Even those who supported its rigorous implementation recognise that.
“The barriers and distortion to trade within the UK internal market brought about by it must be swept away and not replaced.”
Mr Donaldson said his party has “pressed the UK government to that end”.
“Both the (UK) government and the EU must now renegotiate,” he added.
“If the EU is unwilling to recognise the harm caused by the protocol then the UK Government must take appropriate unilateral action using Article 16.
“Subjecting NI to laws and regulations upon which its representatives and Westminster has no say can never work and does not have the support of both communities.”
The contentious Article 16 of the protocol allows the EU or UK to unilaterally suspend aspects of its operations if either side considers that aspect to be causing “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.
The protocol was negotiated as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland by effectively keeping the North in the EU’s single market for goods.
Resulting additional checks on goods arriving into the region from Britain are opposed by unionists, who believe it threatens the constitutional status of the North within the UK.
A grace period relaxing checks and inspections on chilled meats is due to expire in October.
On Sunday, leading supermarkets wrote to Mr Sefcovic and the UK’s Brexit minister David Frost urging further action before the end of September “if there is not to be significant disruption to supply and an increase in cost for Northern Ireland consumers”.
The letter urged the UK and EU governments to enter discussions with British retailers, visit their supply chains and distribution centres, and host joint talks between government technical officials and retail supply chain experts to find a working solution.
It warned that “without swift, decisive and co-operative movement on this issue there will be disruption”, and called on Mr Frost and Mr Sefcovic to “help us to minimise this disruption and allow us to continue to provide the people of Northern Ireland with choice and affordability”.
Writing in the Belfast Newsletter on Monday, Mr Donaldson said the Brexit border in the Irish Sea has added “significant cost and complexity” to trade between Britain and the North and resulted in “a growing problem” of east-west trade “being diverted to the Republic of Ireland and other markets.”
Mr Donaldson also railed against the “democratic deficit at the heart of the protocol”.
“In the past three months alone, the EU has made 600 pieces of legislation which impact on Northern Ireland businesses,” he said.
“This demonstrates that we can’t simply hit the pause button on the protocol. There needs to be a complete reboot of relationships and Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market must be restored in full.”
The UK government is expected to outline its proposals for reform of the protocol later this week.
The DUP has said any new arrangements must avoid diversion of trade, give people in the North “a say in the making of the laws which govern them”, and mean no checks on goods going either way between the North and Britain.
No new regulatory barriers can develop between the North and Britain “unless agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly”, the party has also warned.
“These tests are grounded on the legitimate concerns of local communities and previous broken promises by the UK and EU,” said Mr Donaldson.
“It is entirely reasonable to expect that they can be met through pragmatic and permanent solutions.”
Mr Donaldson said the “rising social and political instability” caused by the current arrangements “cannot be simply ignored or wished away.”
It is “high time” the EU displayed a level of “self-awareness, accepted responsibility for these deeply divisive, disruptive, and destabilising arrangements and committed to finding a permanent and consensual alternative,” he added.
Speaking on Monday, Mr Frost said the protocol “must work in a different way if we are to find a stable route going forward”.
Questioned before Westminster’s European Scrutiny Committee, Mr Frost said London’s proposal for an “equivalence” arrangement, where both sides recognise each other’s food and animal safety standards, was being discussed with Brussels.
The EU had been pressing for an alignment arrangement, where the UK would agree to follow EU rules.
Mr Frost said the only way the protocol can be made “sustainable” is by “hugely reducing or eliminating” barriers between Britain and the North.
The “boundary” it has erected is “too dissuasive, too complicated and too chilling of identity in various ways”, he told MPs.
Mr Frost said the UK government would outline its proposals on Wednesday.
On Mr Donaldson’s remarks that the protocol was not working, Mr Frost said “the more the EU understands that, the sooner we are likely to get to a good outcome”.
Mr Frost also criticised the EU’s “immediate resort to legal weapons” after the UK unilaterally extended grace periods, saying it “hasn’t particularly served well.”
“It is a delicate situation and we need to sort of focus on the politics and the reality of what is happening here,” he said.
Mr Frost said while unionist unease over the protocol was “extremely worrying and troubling” there is “no sense that Northern Ireland is not part of the UK”.