Negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol are “somewhat delayed”, an EU source told Sky News when Boris Johnson heads to Belfast to try to move forward on the issue.
A Brussels source said it was “untrue and unfair to say we are irreconcilable” and that Britain was asking for the flexibility offered to Ukraine, even if “Britain is not at war”.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Cowney has warned that if Britain withdraws from the protocol itself, it could jeopardize its wider trade deal with the EU on Brexit – an agreement that avoids the threat of tariffs.
Downing Street insiders told Sky News editor Beth Rigby that unilateral action under the protocol governing Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade agreements remains a “last resort” and that the prime minister wants to “sort it out calmly”. rationally, without drama ”.
However, in an article for the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Johnson said there would be a “need to act” if Brussels did not agree to a revision of the agreement – an obstacle to reviving the separation of powers in Stormont.
A spokesman for the prime minister later said the protocol required “urgent changes”, but insisted on a “smart landing zone” for an agreement with the EU – and did not rule out that talks would continue until the summer.
The Prime Minister’s trip to Northern Ireland followed a call last week between Foreign Minister Liz Trass and EU Commission Vice President Marash Shefkovich, a telephone conversation previously described by the British government as “indecent”.
But an EU source suggested it was worse, describing the call as “horrible” and adding that they “rarely saw Shefkovich being so annoyed and so upset”.
The source added: “We are stuck here.
“The UK is talking about democracy and avoiding potential civil war, on the other hand the EU is saying that there is an agreement that you need to implement – it is not fair to say that we are cruel or uncompromising.
“The UK is asking for the kind of flexibility that Ukraine has been offered. But Ukraine is at war, so this is an exceptional measure.
“First, Britain is not at war, and there is no serious risk of that. And second, it’s because of Brexit. It’s a legitimate choice made by Britain.”
The protocol was designed to prevent the return of the hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Britain leaves the European Union.
But that means customs controls on some goods coming to Northern Ireland from the UK are actually the border in the Irish Sea that separates them.
This is causing outrage, particularly among trade unionists and, as critics say, including the UK government, disruptions for businesses and consumers in both communities.
The stalemate in attempts to revise the agreement was brought to the last results of the assembly elections, as a result of which Sinn Fein for the first time became the largest party in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s main trade union party, the DUP, has said it will not participate in the separation of powers from Sinn Féin until what it calls “protocol poison” is removed.
Mr Johnson must negotiate with party leaders in Northern Ireland to break the deadlock.
But DUP MP Sammy Wilson told Sky News that the party’s message to the prime minister was: “If you want to break the deadlock that exists and the inability of the executive to function, you need to deal with the protocol, you can not just throw it in the road ”.
The government is preparing to publish legislation repealing the protocol, but Sky News understands that the cabinet still has concerns about the legal position.
Account can be challenged in parliament or in court if it is considered that he has violated international law.
Mr Coveny, who was in Brussels on Monday, warned that the entire UK-EU trade and cooperation agreement – TCA – could be jeopardized if Johnson takes unilateral action.
He said peace, dialogue, compromise and partnership could “respond quickly to the concerns of both the business community and the union community in Northern Ireland”.
The UK’s unilateral action would mean “tensions, anger, confrontation, legal issues and of course questioning the functioning of the TCA itself”