Boris Johnson promises safeguards if trade with North severely disrupted

UK government planning further engagement with Irish authorities to reduce friction

Boris Johnson has told MPs that he will unilaterally adopt safeguards under the Northern Ireland protocol if problems with the flow of goods across the Irish Sea become "disproportionate".

Speaking during prime minister’s questions, Mr Johnson played down the disruption to trade but said he was willing to invoke article 16 of the protocol which permits unilateral action in response to serious “economic, societal or environmental difficulties” caused by its application.

“At the moment, goods are flowing effectively and in normal volumes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. So far, no lorries have been turned back. Yes, of course there are teething problems, but I can confirm that if there are problems that we believe are disproportionate, we will have no hesitation in invoking article 16,” he said.

Ease problems

Cabinet office minister Michael Gove told MPs later that the British government would issue new guidance about practical mitigations to ease problems faced by suppliers of mixed loads of food products. He welcomed easements introduced at Dublin Port but said he planned further engagement with Irish authorities to reduce friction.


DUP MP Ian Paisley described the prime minister's reference to "teething problems" as an insult to the intelligence of the people of Northern Ireland and he accused Conservative MPs of "screwing over" the North.

“What did we do? What did we do to members on those benches over there to be screwed over by this protocol? Ask your hearts, every single one, what did we do? Because what has happened to this protocol – it has ruined trade in Northern Ireland and it is an insult to our intelligence to say it is a teething problem. Tell that to my constituents,” he said.

Campaigned for Brexit

The SDLP's Claire Hanna reminded MPs that the DUP campaigned for Brexit and rejected every alternative to the protocol and she urged Mr Gove to ignore calls to invoke Article 16.

“Will the minister take this opportunity to confirm that further disruption is not the answer and that he will not agree to the DUP’s reckless calls to trigger article 16 and end the protocol? While people here find it very difficult to know what they can believe from the government, will he commit to close working with the EU, business groups and, indeed, the dedicated cabinet office working group to ensure we do not face a further cliff edge at the start of April?” she said.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee heard that the deal agreed between Britain and the EU on Christmas Eve represented a downgrade in terms of security co-operation. But Northumbria law school’s Gemma Davies said Britain and Ireland could work together to limit the impact on cross-border security co-operation.

‘Real issues’

“There are some real issues, particularly in relation to loss of real-time data, and there are areas where co-operation can be enhanced in future between the UK and Ireland through bilateral agreements,” she said.

Colin Murray, a public law expert at Newcastle University, said the arrangements were similar to those between the EU and Norway, but he warned that they could be at risk if Britain moves away from the European Convention on Human Rights.

“You take this brick out then this co-operation win that has come as part of the agreement will simply fall away,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times