PM warns he could override part of Brexit deal on Northern Ireland

3 February 2021, 21:02 | Updated: 3 February 2021, 21:03

Boris Johnson suggested to MPs he would be willing to override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement
Boris Johnson suggested to MPs he would be willing to override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has warned he is willing to override parts of the Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland to prevent a trade barrier developing in the Irish Sea.

With European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič set to travel to the UK next week, the UK Prime Minister has alerted the European Union of his readiness to ride roughshod over elements of the divorce settlement.

Mr Šefčovič will visit Britain for talks aimed at softening the ongoing row over Northern Ireland between London and Brussels.

Fears are growing on both sides that sections of the Withdrawal Agreement - designed to keep open the land border with the Republic - are impeding trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

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Last week, those concerns were crystallised when the EU briefly implemented Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The move from the commission saw the border temporarily closed to exports of the Covid-19 vaccine from the Republic of Ireland.

During Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Mr Johnson suggested he would respond in the same manner if no resolution is found to the issue of goods flowing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

"We will do everything we need to do, whether legislatively or indeed by triggering Article 16 of the protocol, to ensure that there is no barrier down the Irish Sea," he told MPs.

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Later, Mr Šefčovič and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove held a 30-minute virtual meeting with Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill to discuss the situation.

Following the talks, the commission vice president said he believed the problems could be raised if all aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol were implemented.

"I really think if all that flexibilities we put on the table and into the protocol would be used to the maximum that all of the issues that we're discussing today would be really resolved," he told RTE News.

"We should really study how things would look like if the UK would really use and put in practice the flexibilities we agreed upon on 17 December."