Britain’s prime minister said Monday that finding a solution with the European Union to Brexit agreement problems regarding Northern Ireland “still seems possible”, but reiterated he was ready to trigger a suspension clause in the deal.
The Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the Brexit deal that deals with the British province, was designed to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland — a key requirement of the 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence over British rule.
It imposes checks on goods heading to the province from mainland Great Britain — England, Wales and Scotland — to prevent them travelling via EU member state Ireland into the rest of the bloc unchecked.
Unionists in Northern Ireland argue the checks effectively create a border in the Irish Sea, compromising the province’s place in the wider UK.
Britain and the EU are at loggerheads over the rules, which London signed up to in 2019 but now says are unworkable, and which Brussels maintains are needed to protect the integrity of the EU single market.
Speaking at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted his government “would rather find a negotiated solution to the problems created by the Northern Ireland Protocol, and that still seems possible”.
He added: “But if we do invoke Article 16 (the suspension clause) — which by the way is a perfectly legitimate part of that Protocol –- we will do so reasonably and appropriately, because we believe it is the only way left to protect the territorial integrity of our country.”
The EU has warned of “serious consequences” if the suspension goes ahead.
Talks to resolve the deadlock broke up without agreement last week, but will resume in Brussels this week.