The element of the Brexit deal which relates to trade with Northern Ireland is not sustainable and Britain is keeping all options on the table over how it might act, British minister David Frost said on Monday.
“We all know the protocol is not sustainable in the way it’s working at the moment,” Frost told a parliamentary committee, saying barriers on goods moving between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland needed to be removed.
“All options are on the table.”
Britain’s Brexit minister said on Monday that all options were on the table in talks with the European Union including the invocation of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Asked about Article 16, Frost said: “You’ll have to wait and see precisely what we say on Wednesday but certainly all options remain on the table now and in the future.”
Deviating from the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol is a risky step: the aim of the deal was to ensure the delicate peace that was brought to Northern Ireland by the U.S.-brokered 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of sectarian conflict.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who signed the 2020 deal, has been dismayed by the protocol which has imposed paperwork and checks that London says could prevent British food staples such as sausages going to Northern Ireland.
Britain is expected to go beyond its demands for changes to veterinary rules. The senior EU official and a second EU diplomat said that London would seek to have the European Court of Justice (ECJ) removed from the arbitration process.
Preserving the peace in Northern Ireland while protecting the EU’s single market but without dividing up the United Kingdom was always the most difficult riddle of the Brexit saga since the 2016 referendum.
Since the United Kingdom exited the bloc’s orbit on Jan. 1, Johnson unilaterally delayed the implementation of some provisions of the protocol and Frost has said the protocol is unsustainable.
Frost is insisting on a bespoke veterinary deal based on equivalence which London says would remove the need for controls on goods crossing from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Britain is arguing that there should be a more flexible approach to agri-food rules to limit the impact on everyday lives and will spell out clearly what the options and risks are.
The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.
That deal guaranteed an open Irish land border to help safeguard peace, free trade and travel on the island.
But that became a problem after the 2016 Brexit vote as the EU could not close the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland but feared that it could become a backdoor into the EU’s single market.
The result was the 63-page “Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland”, which effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods and having Northern Ireland apply EU customs rules at its ports.
But by putting checks on some goods crossing between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, many pro-British unionists say the protocol has breached the 1998 peace deal.
Loyalist paramilitary groups told Johnson in March that they were temporarily withdrawing support for the peace agreement due to concerns over the Brexit deal.