Johnson vows action on NI Protocol over ‘absurd’ trading arrangements

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By David Young PA

The Prime Minister has vowed to take action on the Northern Ireland Protocol if the EU refuses to ditch “absurd” aspects of the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Mr Johnson said his Government was currently working on “sandpapering” the Protocol, which governs Irish Sea trade post-Brexit, to address some of the concerns about trade disruption.

In an interview with BBC NI’s Spotlight programme, the Prime Minister was also questioned on the potential of a future poll on Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.

Mr Johnson said he could not envisage such a vote for “a very, very long time to come”.

The programme also interviewed Taoiseach Micheal Martin, who insisted the Protocol was not tearing the UK apart.

The new trading arrangements have been cited as a factor behind the recent upsurge of violence in loyalist areas in Northern Ireland.

(The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson)

Loyalists believe the new economic barriers between the region and Great Britain have weakened their place in the UK.

The Protocol requires a range of new regulatory checks on agri-food goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. Some GB goods are banned under the arrangements.

Commercial goods also need to undergo various customs processes.

The Protocol has yet to be fully implemented with various exemptions on checks currently in place.

The EU has taken legal action against the UK for its decision to unilaterally extend some of those grace periods amid continuing talks between the two sides on ways to ease the red tape burden.

Mr Johnson has repeatedly warned that he will trigger a mechanism to suspend the Protocol – Article 16 – if changes to the arrangements cannot be agreed.

“If we can’t make enough progress and if it looks as though the EU is going to be very, very dogmatic about it and we continue to have absurd situations so you can’t bring in rose bushes with British soil into Northern Ireland, you can’t bring British sausages into Northern Ireland, then frankly I’m going to, we’ll have to take further steps,” he told the BBC.

“What we’re doing is removing what I think of as the unnecessary protuberances and barriers that have grown up and we’re getting the barnacles off the thing and sandpapering it into shape.”

Irish premier Mr Martin said the Protocol posed no threat to the integrity of the UK.

“The Protocol is not tearing the United Kingdom apart, that’s just an overly dramatic presentation of it in our view,” he said.

“It explicitly affirms the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent.

“So it’s not a danger to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland at all, and was never intended to be.”

(A sign errected on a pole in opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol)

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