Boris Johnson reiterates intention to scrap Northern Ireland protocol

European Union to remain ‘united’ against United Kingdom plan to unwind Brexit deal, says Italian minister

British prime minister Boris Johnson has said he hopes to have legislation overriding parts of the Northern Ireland protocol operational by the end of the year.

Ahead of the first parliamentary reading in London, Mr Johnson said he was “optimistic” of securing further “flexibility” from the European Commission, but said the deal had not loomed large in talks with other leaders at the G7 meeting in Bavaria.

“The interesting thing is how little this conversation is being had, certainly here,” he told journalists.

Last month US president Joe Biden warned Mr Johnson about unilateral changes and urged him to continue engaging with Brussels.

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The EU and the UK are in dispute over the Brexit deal agreed in 2019 that keeps Northern Ireland under EU single market rules for goods and imposes checks on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland as a way of avoiding a hard border being created on the island of Ireland.

Mr Johnson wants the EU to renegotiate the protocol that he agreed in 2019 and create a check-free “green channel” for goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland not destined for the EU.

In Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps, Mr Johnson insisted his government’s changes would address imbalances in the agreement with the EU.

“You have got one tradition, one community, that feels that things really aren’t working in a way that they like or understand, you’ve got unnecessary barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” he said. “All we are saying is you can get rid of those whilst not in any way endangering the EU single market.”

He said it was possible the changes could be made “very fast, parliament willing” but that it would be “even better” if London could “get some of that flexibility we need in our conversations with [European Commission vice-president] Maroš Šefčovič”.

Speaking in Dublin, Taoiseach Micheál Martin accused the UK of taking a “unilateral decision” to breach international law.

“There can be no getting out of that and one cannot trivialise the breaching of an international agreement between the United Kingdom government and the European Union.”

He said he is concerned at “a trend towards unilateralism” that he claimed was emanating from the UK government. “We’ve had it on the protocol, we’ve had it on legacy issues.”

‘Calm, firm but united’

He said the presidents of the European Commission and EU Council are also concerned at Downing Street’s stance.

“This is not a good move by the British government and it has to accept that unilateralism does not work in the context of the Good Friday Agreement or indeed in the context of good relationships with your neighbours and with the European Union.”

The EU will remain “calm, firm but united” against the UK’s plan to unwind the Northern Ireland Brexit deal, Italy’s European Affairs minister Vincenzo Amendola has said.

Speaking on a visit to Dublin, Mr Amendola said it would be “impossible” for the UK government’s alternative plan to the Northern Ireland protocol to protect the EU single market.

He described the proposed UK legislation to override parts of the protocol signed by Mr Johnson as an “international breach” of law and that the EU would remain united against it, just as they had remained united in support of the protocol that Mr Johnson agreed three years ago.

“We have always moved all together at a European level — calm, firm but united,” he said. “Europe will answer unanimously again.”

Speaking ahead of travelling to Belfast, the minister said that Northern Ireland remaining in the EU single market was “a plus for Northern Ireland” and that it had benefited from the deal.

Mr Amendola said the EU would not insist on a trade border on the island of Ireland to protect the single market should the UK not impose the checks as required under the protocol.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent