Rishi Sunak has faced cross-party calls in Westminster to rethink the controversial move to sever parts of the Northern Ireland deal after Brexit amid warnings it breaches international law and threatens a trade war with the EU.

With the UK’s new prime minister in Downing Street, a number of colleagues from across the political spectrum have pushed for a change of heart on the Northern Ireland Protocol bill, which has been equated to “putting the gun on the table” in negotiations with the EU aimed at finding a solution.

The UK government faced demands to provide more details on the impact of the bill before it continued through parliament in the House of Lords, where it faced opposition.

The protocol was intended to avoid a hard border with Ireland, but it created economic barriers to the movement of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland, causing discontent and anger among many unionists and loyalists.

The row has deadlocked attempts to form a devolved government in Belfast, with the DUP refusing to return to power-sharing until decisive action is taken, increasing the prospect of further elections.

The UK government has vowed to amend the protocol either by reaching a compromise with the EU or through proposed domestic legislation that would give ministers the right to overturn the arrangements without Brussels’ approval.

Critics argued the bill was a “sword of Damocles” in negotiations, breached international law and harmed Britain’s global standing.

Relations between Britain and the EU appeared to have improved since Boris Johnson left office, with both London and Brussels discussing the possibility of a deal through a new round of talks.

Former Tory leader Lord Howard of Lympne said: “There is agreement in the House that the best solution would be a deal between the UK and the European Union. We are told that discussions are underway. I hope that the new administration will give new impetus to these discussions.”

Former Northern Ireland Labor minister Lord Hayne claimed that finding a solution to the protocol was “easy” compared to previous agreements reached in Northern Ireland.

He said: “This problem is highly solvable through serious negotiation, engagement and understanding of the various interests at stake.

“We need less dogma, more flexibility, and this bill prevents that.”
Former Tory minister Baroness Altman said: “The problems with this bill are much deeper, more fundamental and more important than Brexit. It’s about right and wrong.”

She added: “This bill risks disrupting our trading relationship with the EU and even the US at a time when we need them to boost growth.

“The new prime minister has a chance to review this bill and delay it in the interest of growth. I hope he decides to at least put this on hold so that proper negotiations can take place and trust can be restored.”

Former EU commissioner and Tory cabinet minister Lord Patten of Barnes also called for a review.

Rishi Sunak (Stephan Russo/Pennsylvania)

A Conservative peer said: “It can’t make sense to act in this way with a rotten bill that can at best be seen as a way of forcing other people to the negotiating table. A grown-up government can’t behave itself, and now I think we have an adult-supervised government again, so I hope the government behaves sensibly with our European friends.”

Labour’s Baroness Chapman of Darlington called the bill “reckless and unworkable”.

She said: “Surely any future prime minister would want to demonstrate an ability to solve problems rather than drag them out?”

Independent expert Baroness O’Loan told the upper house that the bill was being compared to “putting a gun on the table during negotiations”.

She said: “I hope that even at this late stage the Prime Minister … will consider the matter further and withdraw the Bill.”

Former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deputy leader Lord Dodds has reiterated his party’s opposition to the protocol.

He added: “Supporting this bill and achieving a negotiated outcome are incompatible.”

Responding on behalf of the government, Foreign Secretary Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said: “In our view, as a government, we need to move this bill forward now to address the practical issues that have been raised.”

Noting that negotiations are ongoing with the EU, he added: “We continue to engage and have these constructive exchanges.”