Boris Johnson has threatened to call time on the Northern Ireland Brexit deal in a bid to avert more border chaos on the Irish Sea.
The prime minister on Wednesday threatened to invoke the protocol’s Article 16 exit clause if it was the only way to ensure free flowing trade between the province and Great Britain.
It comes as his deputy Michael Gove held talks with European Commission officials after demanding a “grace period” for new bureaucracy on importers and exports be extended to 2023.
The Brexiteer gave Brussels a tight deadline to come up with a solution “this week”.
The prime minister’s Brexit deal has already led to significant disruption between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, including shortages of some goods.
But the situation is expected to get worse in April unless the current grace period applying to supermarkets and others in the food industry is extended.
In the House of Commons, DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr confronted the PM with his previous promise that businesses could throw any demands for paperwork on exports between Britain and Northern Ireland “in the bin”.
Mr Paisley said the people of Northern Ireland felt “betrayed” by the outcome of the Brexit deal and told Mr Johnson: “Prime minister, be the Unionist we need you to be.”
“The protocol has betrayed us and has made us feel like foreigners in our own country,” said Mr Paisley. “Tea and sympathy will not cut the mustard. What is the prime minister actually going to do?”
Mr Johnson responded that he was willing to override parts of the Northern Ireland protocol if necessary.
“We will do everything we need to do, whether legislatively or indeed by triggering Article 16 of the protocol, to ensure that there is no barrier down the Irish Sea,” he said.
In a letter to EU Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič sent on Tuesday evening and made public on Wednesday, cabinet office minister Mr Gove urged an extension of the grace period.
The minister said that the “minimum set of steps necessary to stabilise the situation” in Northern Ireland included extended the grace period to “at least 1 January 2023”.
“We are both well aware that there are a number of pressing problems with the operation of the Protocol that need to be addressed and we must do so this week,” he said.
Speaking on Wednesday morning Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told public broadcaster RTE that his government thought the EU should show “flexibility” on the issue.
Loyalists and unionists in Northern Ireland are unhappy at the new arrangements, which effectively put a trade border in the Irish Sea in order to keep the border with the Republic of Ireland open.
The Democratic Unionist Party has for weeks called on the government to suspend some of its obligations in the treaty under Article 16.
The profile of the EU was raised after the European Commission briefly suggested it would trigger Article 16 to stop coronavirus vaccine exports, before swiftly withdrawing the idea after an outcry.
Boris Johnson on Wednesday morning spoke with Arlene Foster, the DUP leader and Northern Irish first minister.
A Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister told Ms Foster “that we needed urgent action from the EU to resolve outstanding problems”.
They added: “The Prime Minister restated his commitment to Northern Ireland as an integral part of our Union and underlined that we would do everything we could to ensure trade continues to flow effectively right across our United Kingdom.”
So far, haulage firms have hiked prices by 12 per cent this week and hospitals, schools and prisons have warned of looming problems obtaining food supplies.
But the situation is expected to get worse when the grace periods on supermarkets’ paperwork and processed foods end, in April and July respectively.