The UK can tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol without breaking international law, a minister has insisted.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said the government is prepared to scrap the post-Brexit trade deal – known as the Article 16 invocation – to ensure ‘political stability’ in Northern Ireland. North.
The protocol, a key part of the UK’s post-Brexit withdrawal treaty with the EU, has led to checks on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.
It has angered the Democratic Unionist Party, which has said it will not enter a power-sharing executive at Sinn Fein’s Stormont unless the protocol is radically redrawn.
Boris Johnson will fly to Belfast on Monday in a bid to broker a deal between political parties to get the Northern Ireland Assembly up and running again.
Appearing on Sky News this morning, Kwarteng made it clear the government was ready to escalate tensions with Brussels by scrapping the protocol.
When asked if ministers were prepared to do this unilaterally, Kwarteng replied: “Absolutely right. Throughout this debate, even before the Protocol and the [withdrawal] treaty, we’ve had a number of people in this country who have assumed that the UK government is always wrong and the EU is always right, and that’s clearly too simplistic.
“We tried to enter in good faith, we tried to negotiate the withdrawal treaty, but we always said, even article 16 of the protocol itself says so, that it can be abrogated unilaterally if it turns out it’s not working , and clearly if political stability is our priority and people are saying they’re not going to go to power sharing if that doesn’t change, we have to look very carefully at how we we can change it.
Pressed on whether it would breach international law, the company secretary said: “I’m not clear on that because it’s clear that Article 16 is part of the protocol itself, and when you read it, it says very clearly that it is possible to modify it unilaterally – unilaterally means that we can do it ourselves without having to reach an agreement with the EU.
Kwarteng also dismissed suggestions that unilateral action by the UK could lead to a damaging trade war, with the EU introducing tariffs that would further raise prices in stores.
“Any tariff situation should be subject to arbitrators,” he said. “It’s not something they can do willy-nilly, arbitrarily. We had a lot of problems because we simply ruled out the possibility of leaving.
“Article 16 is enshrined (in the Withdrawal Agreement). It allows people to act unilaterally and we must ultimately be ready to invoke it.
“I don’t think they’re necessarily going to be able to arbitrarily impose tariffs. I think it will take a long time for this process to come to fruition. As far as I’m concerned, we absolutely have the right to invoke Article 16 and reopen or reconsider the protocol.
Appearing on the same programme, Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney accused the UK of “saber rattling and grandstanding”, and said there was still a chance a negotiated settlement could be found.
He said, “At a time when the world needs the western world to be united, to come together to solve problems together, this is a problem we must solve together. The last thing Ireland wants, the last thing the EU needs, is tension with a country the size and influence of the UK.