A Government minister has issued a fresh warning that the UK could unilaterally suspend elements of the deal with the EU governing post-Brexit trading arrangements with Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns refused to be drawn on a report that ministers are preparing legislation giving them sweeping powers to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement.
The move, 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.
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 said: “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."
Mr Burns took time to urge leaders in Brussels to negotiate the Protocol with their UK counterparts, or risk provoking the drastic action.
He told LBC: "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 Boris 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?”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen HENRY NICHOLLS