Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has said Northern Ireland Protocol checks need to be scrapped to resolve power-sharing at Stormont following Sinn Fein’s election success.
Mr Raab also suggested that Boris Johnson’s government is prepared to tear up parts of the deal unilaterally if an agreement could not be reached soon with the EU.
The unionist DUP is refusing to serve with the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein in an executive unless the GB-NI checks on goods agreed as part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal are ditched.
Asked if Downing Street was ready to take action to tear up the deal without consent with Brussels, Mr Raab said “that option has not been taken off the table”.
The justice secretary told Sky News’ Sophie Ridge On Sunday that “stability is being put at risk, impelled if you like, by the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol”.
He added: “It’s clear from the dynamic that we now see that we won’t get to that position of stability unless and until [the protocol] is fixed.”
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said the issue of protocol needed to be “resolved” – blaming the EU for failing to agree to ditch the checks signed into law as part of the Brexit deal.
“It is really frustrating that the EU has not shown the flexibility we need to see to get that resolution,” he told Sky News. “It’s more frustrating to hear over the last couple of days that the EU seem to be saying they’re not willing to show any sort of flexibility to get this resolved.”
Michelle O’Neill – the party’s leader north of the border – challenged the DUP to drop its obsession with protocol checks and “work together” to restore the power-sharing executive which collapsed in February.
Sinn Fein won 27 seats and received 29 per cent of first preference votes, compared with 25 seats and 21.3 per cent of first preference votes for the DUP – putting Ms O’Neill on course to become the first-ever Irish nationalist prime minister.
But DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted that the protocol remained a barrier to power-sharing at Stormont. “The sooner that happens, the sooner we’ll be in a position to move forward,” he said.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Sir Jeffrey stating: “Now is the moment for the government to act. No more words. It’s time for action. The Irish Sea border must go and the protocol must be replaced.”
‘Frustrating’ lack of flexibility from EU over protocol, says Northern Ireland secretary
Mr Raab said the executive cannot “get up and running” unless the protocol is “fixed”. He said the government would take “whatever measures are necessary”, but refused to say whether a bill to tear up the protocol would be included in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech.
The Independent understands it could be introduced later in the parliamentary session. Hinting at action, Mr Raab said: “We’ve had some constructive engagement from the EU, but not enough to solve the problem. We can’t let matters lie there… So we’ll be taking forward further action.”
The Republic of Ireland’s Europe minister Thomas Byrne pointed out that “a decisive majority” of the MLAs elected to Stormont want to make the protocol work, and called on the UK to “engage in a renewed way” with the EU on the issue.
Ms O’Neill that “we must all turn up” at Stormont next week, adding: “The people can’t wait. The people have told us they expect us to work together. The people are right.”
Keir Starmer’s Labor party has urged the government to “prioritise practical solutions through negotiation with the EU and not chase headlines with empty threats”.
Sinn Fein’s unprecedented victory also raised the project of push for a referendum on the reunification of Ireland.
The Republican party’s president Mary Lou McDonald said that she believed a border poll on a united Ireland would be “possible within a five-year timeframe”.
Mr Raab played down the prospect of a border poll on Irish reunification following Sinn Fein’s Stormont success.
“If you look at the results in Northern Ireland, 58 per cent fully of people voted either for parties who support the union or for parties who do not support constitutional change, and that is the message from the people of Northern Ireland,” he told SkyNews.