Boris Johnson reluctant to bow to DUP over loophole in NI Protocol amid Irish border chaos

Brexit: Redwood says there’s ‘no way’ UK will disrupt Irish border

The Prime Minister found a solution to the ongoing concerns over the Irish border, which were proving to be a sticking point in the Brexit trade deal negotiations, when he and then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar agreed upon the Northern Ireland Protocol. This meant the region would leave the EU along with the rest of the UK while still following the rules of the bloc’s customs union and single market. Instead a trade border would be placed in the Irish Sea for goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Britain.

The legislation aimed to prevent any tensions being revived over the Irish border — but the Protocol was also criticised by the Democratic Unionist Party for appearing to segregate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

In response, the Prime Minister promised there would be “unfettered access” between Northern Ireland and Britain before the UK’s transition period came to an end on December 31.

But just days into the post-Brexit arrangements, a storm of criticism has started brewing for Downing Street in Northern Ireland as freight faces major disruption.

Increased customs controls have left some stores complaining of major delays with supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda claiming they have been stuck with many empty shelves.

Marks & Spencer have withdrawn hundreds of products from their shelves over the chaos, while some online retailers have refused to service the region.

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Checks conducted by EU and UK Border Force officials have caused huge concern, as have the need for custom declarations.

Entry into Northern Ireland reportedly took 20 minutes prior to Brexit. Now, insiders claim form-filling can take up to four hours and cause huge queues.

Others say they were promised some declarations would take just 30 seconds — only for them to take 12 hours instead.

To address the issue, the DUP is pushing for Wesminster to invoke Article 16 in the Northern Ireland Protocol.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is set to table a question in the Commons on the matter later today.

DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr also said Downing Street should trigger the clause which allows the EU or UK to “unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures”, if the application of the Protocol is triggering “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist”, or trade friction.

READ MORE: Officials ‘turning blind eye’ as traders breach Irish Sea Brexit rules

The DUP Minister for Agriculture, Edwin Poots, said he recently met with No.10 to “highlight the scale of the problem and urged them to take steps up to and including invoking Article 16 as it is evident that the protocol is damaging Northern Ireland at the economic and societal level”.

An article written for Briefings for Britain also claims that the EU Commission is “limited in its response to UK action”, in the event that Downing Street invokes Article 16.

Writer Roderick Crawford, who also works on conflict resolution in the Middle East, explained: “[The Commission] can respond only if the UK action creates an imbalance in the Protocol: it can then take measures to ‘rebalance’ it.

“The wording of Article 16 gives wide scope for UK Government action in the event that the Protocol is having detrimental effects.

“These effects do not have to be Northern Ireland wide; they could affect just one sector of business, like hauliers, or a particular company that found itself experiencing ‘serious economic difficulties’; social difficulties experienced by local communities adversely affected by the operation of the protocol would also be covered by this provision.”

Yet, the Government has resisted such pleas so far.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The flow of goods between GB and NI has been smooth and arrivals of freight have continued to increase substantially over this week.

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“We continue to work closely with traders as they adapt to the new arrangements.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has not publicly commented but sources claim he does not want to implement Article 16 because it could create trade difficulties with the Republic of Ireland — exactly the outcome the protocol aimed to avoid.

A source told The Irish Times that Mr Lewis was likely to say there was no need “for needless panic and uncertainty among consumers” and that he was prioritising “ensuring that goods continue to flow” between Britain and Northern Ireland.

However the DUP is not the only party in Northern Ireland to be lobbying Downing Street.

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) opposed the protocol like the DUP when it was first announced, and has asked Mr Lewis to extend the three-month grace period for food companies.

Additional paperwork is set to be introduced in April, supposedly after allowing businesses to adapt during the first part of the year.

Yet, UUP MLA John Stewart said it was evidently “systemic problems” causing the delays rather than “teething problems”.

In a letter to Mr Lewis, he said: “We believe that derogations must reasonably be extended to nine to 12 months to allow solutions to be found and put in place.

“If the UK Government is adopting a policy of waiting to see how things pan out, it is making a fatal error.”

Sinn Fein has blamed the delays at Dover a few weeks ago for the trade disruption in the Irish Sea.

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