Brexit minister Lord Frost has threatened that the UK could soon take drastic action over the post-Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland over concerns about violence and disruption.
He urged the European Union to “stop the point-scoring and work with us” to “rapidly” find new solutions to end border checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea which he says make “no sense”.
Lord Frost warned that the government continues “to consider all our options” as he said the situation caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol that he negotiated “cannot be sustained for long”.
But potentially breaching international law by tearing up the protocol was understood not to be under consideration, with government sources hinting at the triggering of Article 16 to suspend checks instead being an option.
Arguing ministers “did not anticipate” issues with checks when signing the protocol, Lord Frost wrote in the Mail on Sunday that “I totally understand” the anxiety of unionists.
“Protests have been occurring and political stability is at risk. Our overriding aim has always been to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. If the protocol is not protecting it, it is not working,” he said.
“The EU need, rapidly, to find a new approach and new solutions.
“If the protocol operates so as to damage the political, social, or economic fabric of life in Northern Ireland, then that situation cannot be sustained for long. We are responsible for protecting the peace and prosperity of everyone in Northern Ireland and we will continue to consider all our options for doing so.”
Lord Frost issued the threat after meeting loyalist paramilitaries during a visit to Northern Ireland last week.
The protocol was designed to protect the peace process by avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.
But it has angered unionists by effectively creating a barrier between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by leaving the region tied to a range of EU customs and regulatory rules.
If the UK triggered Article 16, it would be the second such act since the protocol came into force at the beginning of the year when the post-Brexit transition period ended.
Brussels invoked the provisions in January and then quickly backtracked in the face of widespread criticism as it sought to impose controls on coronavirus vaccines made in the bloc.