Boris Johnson has today underlined the urgency needed to fix the Northern Ireland Protocol, saying “we need to move pretty fast” to strike a deal with the EU.
Johnson, on a visit to Northern Ireland, labelled the post-Brexit treaty as “not coherent with the Belfast Good Friday Agreement”.
Negotiations over the implementation of the protocol reopened last week, after the UK and EU both set out their respective requests over how to fix it.
The UK has threatened on many occasions to suspend the protocol if it is not changed to reduce checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea, which are creating political and economic tensions in Northern Ireland.
“I think there is an issue with the protocol and there is a need to thrash that out and we can’t go on forever with this question, because it’s affecting real people and real lives and real businesses right now, because of the way the protocol is being interpreted,” Johnson said.
“I don’t think it’s coherent with the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, because the way it is being used it does create unnecessary checks down the Irish Sea. We need to flush it out pretty fast and we need to change the causes of the problem and not the symptoms. I think we need to move pretty fast.”
The protocol is a part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and sees Northern Ireland follow the EU’s customs union and single market rules, unlike the rest of the UK, in order to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
The UK’s Brexit minister Lord David Frost is calling for a complete rewrite of the protocol, which would see most checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland eliminated and for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to lose its jurisdiction over the agreement.
The EU came forward with proposals to cut Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls – food safety checks – by 80 per cent and change laws to ensure medicines can easily be sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Brussels has said that it will not completely re-write the treaty or change the ECJ’s right to govern it.
Downing Street said the EU had not moved enough in its proposals for their to be a deal.
“We welcome the considerable effort made by [European Commission] Vice President Maros Sefcovic and his team to address the issues that have arisen on the Protocol,” a UK government spokesperson said.
“We are studying the proposals positively and constructively. Our officials are working closely with their EU counterparts to understand the detail.
“Nevertheless it is clear there is still a substantial gap between our two positions. Accordingly there is much work to do. Both we and the EU now have proposals on the table.”