It comes amid claims his ministers are preparing to unleash new legislation in the Queen’s speech that will allow the government to switch off key parts of the Northern Ireland protocol. Speaking at a press conference during his visit to India, the Prime Minister said that problems with the Protocol were “getting more acute”. He insisted the agreement was not supported by much of Northern Ireland’s population and said he would not rule out “taking further steps” to solve the issue.
Despite months of negotiations with the EU over possible changes to the Protocol, no solutions have yet been found from the talks.
The Protocol is designed to avoid a post-Brexit hard border on the island of Ireland and is a key part of the UK’s divorce deal with the EU.
But the agreement is not supported by Northern Ireland’s Unionist parties, who have pointed to a damaging impact on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Mr Johnson was asked about reports the Government is preparing legislation – to be unveiled early next month – that would give ministers sweeping powers to suspend aspects of the Protocol.
He said: “I think it’s very, very simple and I think it’s about the balance of the Good Friday Agreement.
“Because of what is happening, I think it’s fair to say the Protocol really does not command the confidence of a large, large component of the population in Northern Ireland.
“We have to address that, we have to fix that – the very substantial diversions of trade. It’s going on and it’s getting more acute, we have to fix that and we can.
“We think we can do it with some very simple and reasonable steps and we have talked repeatedly to our friends and partners in the EU and we will continue to talk to them.
“But as I’ve said many times now, we don’t rule out taking further steps if that’s necessary. That’s the position but I’ve said that many times.”
According to the Financial Times, the Government is preparing plans in anticipation of a constitutional crisis should Unionist parties refuse to re-enter Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive after elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly on 5th May.
The legslation would give ministers in London the power to switch off key parts of the Protocol in UK law.
Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns said the Government already has powers to suspend parts of the Protocol under the agreement’s Article 16.
“There is significant societal disruption in Northern Ireland due to the way that the Protocol is being implemented,” he told LBC radio.
“I hope Brussels are listening to this conversation and other conversations.
“I hope they will come back to the table constructively to allow us to change the Protocol to make it work in the way it was intended.
“If they don’t hear that, then the Government reserves the right, as we have always said, as laid down in the Protocol, to take remedial action.”
Labour said it would be “damaging” to tear up the Protocol.
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Kyle told Sky News: ‘Boris Johnson negotiated, his team drafted the Northern Ireland Protocol; they presented it to the EU, they negotiated it into the deal.
“It doesn’t work as well as it can do, that’s why the Labour policy is, you build on it – we can improve the protocol, we can smooth it, and we can do so without breaking the law and breaking our international treaty we signed with the EU.
“If we just recklessly pull out of it unilaterally, how will any other country in the world sign a deal with us and think that we will honour it?”.