PM poised for protocol change ahead of crisis talks

The UK government is poised to introduce legislation that would allow ministers in London to override parts of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland, a senior government source has said.

Boris Johnson is due to visit Belfast later to encourage the restoration of Northern Ireland’s government.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is refusing to enter the assembly because of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

It was designed to ensure free trade continued across the Irish land border.

The recent assembly election on 5 May cemented a majority for those who accept the protocol, including the new largest party, Sinn Féin. But it has been opposed by unionist politicians.

The DUP has argued the protocol has eroded the foundations devolution was built on and undermined Northern Ireland’s position in the UK.

Despite signing up to the deal himself, Boris Johnson agrees changes are needed.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, he said the protocol was out of date and did not reflect the reality of a post-Covid era with a European war and a cost of living crisis.

He added that he was open to dialogue but warned the UK would have to act if the EU did not change its position.

A senior government source said that barring any last minute changes, the government would introduce the legislation to strip away parts of the protocol to enable easier trade.

Such legislation would have to go through parliament however, which could take months.

Some fear that should the UK act unilaterally, it could spark retaliation from European countries and ultimately a trade war – the last thing many businesses and households want at the time of a cost of living crisis.

Analysis box by Jayne McCormack, NI political correspondent
The last crisis at Stormont took three years to resolve.

Boris Johnson wants this one to be sorted much more quickly but others won’t hold out the same hope.

During his flying visit he’ll urge the parties to get back to work – in truth a message aimed mainly at the DUP which argues the stumbling block remains the protocol.

The party says it won’t promise anything until it sees action from No 10.

Those first steps are expected to be announced by the government on Tuesday.

Already Sinn Féin has accused the prime minister of playing politics and Dublin warned that any unilateral action will mean retaliation from the EU.

Solving political problems requires trust on all sides – something in very short supply right now.