The Northern Ireland protocol – a clause within the Brexit deal which aims to keep Northern Ireland both within Britain and the EU single market – has caused widespread disruption since its implementation, a fact that is accepted by both UK and EU policy-makers. Now, a new law could see British ministers granted sweeping powers to tear up the Protocol, without relying on Article 16 alone to unilaterally solve the issue.
First reported in the Financial Times, the planned legislation would give ministers the power to switch off key parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, including border checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss have reportedly signed off on the plans in principle.
The move will undoubtedly inflame tensions between Britain and the EU, with analysts expecting an imminent confrontation with Brussels.
But according to Whitehall insiders, the Prime Minster’s team was formulating the plan in anticipation of a constitutional crisis at home, with the risk that Northern Ireland Unionist parties could refuse to re-enter the region’s power-sharing executive after the May 5 Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
Speaking to reporters from his official trip to India on Friday, Mr Johnson said the UK would continue to try to find a resolution to the Northern Ireland issue with the EU, but said his administration would not “rule out taking further steps if that is necessary”.
He said: “This is something that has been a consistent issue for the UK Government and I think it’s very simple.
“It’s about the balance of the Good Friday Agreement and because of what is happening, it would be fair to say, that the protocol really does not command the confidence of a large component of the population in Northern Ireland.
“We have to address that, we have to fix that.”
Asked if that could include new legislation, he replied: “Of course. That goes without saying.”
Article 16 of the protocol already gives the UK or the EU the right to introduce “safeguard measures” if the deal is causing serious difficulties which are liable to persist.
But a new UK law would go much further than that, giving UK ministers broad discretion and a reduced risk of legal challenge.
The EU would be likely to view the move as a serious breach of the deal, which could in turn have a knock-on effect on other aspects of the carefully negotiated withdrawal agreement.
So what do YOU think? Is this a good idea? Vote in our poll and join the debate in the comments below.