Michael Gove has called for a ‘reset’ and ‘refinement’ of the Brexit deal which only came into force at the start of the year.
The Cabinet Office minister has expressed frustration at the lack of progress in talks with Brussels aimed at resolving difficulties in Northern Ireland’s Brexit arrangements ahead of a meeting with the European Commission’s vice president Maros Sefcovic in London.
Gove acknowledged the protocol was “not working at the moment” with the result being “disruptions and difficulties faced by Northern Ireland citizens in their daily lives”.
While progress was being made in talks with the European Commission, Gove said it “has not been as fast as I would like” and “we are very far from resolving all those problems”.
Gove said he believed the issues could be resolved within the Northern Ireland Protocol, without needing to trigger the Article 16 procedure to effectively override it.
“They can be resolved within the context of the protocol, we don’t need to ditch it in order to resolve those issues, but as the prime minister has spelt out, if we can’t make progress in resolving those issues then the UK Government has to reserve its rights.”
Relations between Belfast, London and Brussels have been severely strained after the European Commission threatened to use Article 16 in a row over coronavirus vaccine supplies, before performing a humiliating U-turn following a political backlash.
Gove told the Commons European Scrutiny Committee that the EU’s move to use the measure was “a moment when trust was eroded, when damage was done, and where movement is required in order to ensure that we have an appropriate reset”.
The EU’s own procedures were set aside and member states – particularly Ireland – were “ridden roughshod over”.
“It is still of concern that as things stand, the EU reserve the right potentially to return to Article 16 in this area,” he said.
“As things stand that regulation is still in place in its current form and I think there needs to be a realisation on all sides that this isn’t just some arcane bit of diplomatic procedure: this has real consequences on the ground.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol was designed to prevent a hard border with Ireland but has resulted in additional checks for goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.