The UK government on Monday said it stood ready to abandon a post-Brexit trading accord for Northern Ireland “soon”, unless the EU agreed to wholesale changes.
Addressing the annual conference of the ruling Conservative party, Brexit minister David Frost said: “The long bad dream of our EU membership is over.
“The British renaissance has begun,” he said, insisting that Brexit was working in terms of recapturing UK sovereignty despite an ongoing supply chain crisis roiling the economy.
But for Northern Ireland in particular, trust in the tricky compromises worked out with Brussels had “collapsed”, Frost said, blaming the EU’s “heavy-handed actions”.
The EU had yet to formally reply to UK proposals made in July to reform the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, he noted.
“But from what I hear, I worry that we will not get one which enables the significant change we need.
“So I urge the EU to be ambitious. It’s no use tinkering around the edges. We need significant change,” Frost said.
“But we cannot wait for ever. Without an agreed solution soon, we will need to act, using the Article 16 safeguard mechanism, to address the impact the protocol is having on Northern Ireland.”
The protocol formed part of the UK’s drawn-out divorce from the EU, and was designed to prevent unchecked goods heading into the bloc’s single market via the UK’s only land border with the EU to Ireland.
But pro-UK unionists in Northern Ireland are opposed, arguing that border checks on goods from mainland Great Britain -- England, Scotland and Wales -- effectively creates a border in the Irish Sea, compromising the province’s place in the wider UK.
Brussels insists that the protocol is not up for renegotiation, and could trigger trade reprisals should the UK invoke its Article 16, which would suspend the pact owing to extraordinary circumstances.
“That may in the end be the only way to protect our country -- our people, our trade, our territorial integrity, the peace process, and the benefits of this great UK of which we are all part,” Frost warned.