Boris Johnson still believes Brexit is “done”, despite the government’s call for a two-year extension of the grace periods in the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said “there are some issues that we need to resolve as part of the protocol” and “we will continue to work to address those issues” with the European Union.
The UK has urged the EU to agree to an extension up until 2023.
In a letter to European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said there was a need to find “political solutions” to the disruption and red tape associated with the Brexit mechanism.
He warned that if solutions were not found, the government would consider using “all instruments at its disposal” – comments that raise the prospect of a unilateral move to suspend aspects of the protocol.
Gove has written to Sefcovic asking for an extension of a series of grace periods that are currently in operation that limit the level of bureaucracy associated with the protocol.
The government wants to extend these grace periods, some of which are due to expire at the end of March, to January 2023 in order to provide space to find permanent solutions.
That would see the protocol operating on a limited basis past the next scheduled Stormont Assembly election in May 2022.
The government has raised concern that the outworking of regulatory and customs processes on GB-to-NI trade is undermining east-west relations that are a key dimension of Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace agreement.
“In all cases, what is now required is political, not technical, solutions,” said Gove.