Boris Johnson defended his push to rewrite the Northern Ireland Protocol, which came into force in January last year, in an interview with the Mumsnet website
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Boris Johnson today demanded ‘more pragmatism and less theology’ from the EU in the dispute over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister blasted ‘pretty pointless and bureaucratic checks’ being imposed on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

He accused Brussels of failing to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol – which was struck in order to prevent a post-Brexit hard border on the island of Ireland – with ‘common sense and pragmatism’.

Mr Johnson claimed this was ‘inflaming’ tensions and despaired at how the Protocol was ‘certainly not functioning well’.

The PM found an unlikely ally in his call for Brussels to back down in the Protocol dispute from Sir Tony Blair.

The former Labour prime minister called on Brussels to show ‘maximum flexibility’ in seeking a solution to the Northern Ireland Protocol row.

He branded the current agreement a ‘bad deal’ and also expressed fears the current rift over the Protocol could undermine the Good Friday Agreement he struck in 1998.

Long-simmering tensions over the Protocol erupted again last month when Mr Johnson outlined plans for the UK Government to take unilateral action to set aside key parts of the agreement, if negotiations with the EU continue to stall.

The move sparked fury from Brussels, with EU figures raising the prospect of a bitter trade war with Britain in response.

The bloc also maintained its stance that it ‘cannot renegotiate’ the Protocol and a solution had to be found ‘within the limits’ of the existing deal.

The Protocol row is currently blocking the establishment of a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, with the DUP refusing to join an administration until the agreement is reformed.

The unionist party have also collapsed the new Northern Ireland Assembly, elected at the beginning of last month, by refusing to nominate a Speaker as part of their Protocol protest.

Boris Johnson defended his push to rewrite the Northern Ireland Protocol, which came into force in January last year, in an interview with the Mumsnet website

Boris Johnson defended his push to rewrite the Northern Ireland Protocol, which came into force in January last year, in an interview with the Mumsnet website

Sir Tony Blair called on Brussels to show 'maximum flexibility' in seeking a solution to the Northern Ireland Protocol row

Sir Tony Blair called on Brussels to show ‘maximum flexibility’ in seeking a solution to the Northern Ireland Protocol row

The ex-PM suggested Mr Johnson would have to negotiate directly with EU leaders, pictured at a European Council summit, and bypass 'two bureaucratic systems' in Brussels and London

The ex-PM suggested Mr Johnson would have to negotiate directly with EU leaders, pictured at a European Council summit, and bypass ‘two bureaucratic systems’ in Brussels and London

The Protocol row is currently blocking the establishment of a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, with the DUP refusing to join an administration until the agreement is reformed

The Protocol row is currently blocking the establishment of a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, with the DUP refusing to join an administration until the agreement is reformed

Mr Johnson defended his push to rewrite the Protocol, which came into force in January last year, in an interview with the Mumsnet website.

‘All that we’re trying to do is to get rid of some pretty pointless and bureaucratic checks on stuff that is going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland,’ the PM said.

‘These checks, what they’re doing is they’re undermining the confidence of one community in Northern Ireland – the unionist community – in the arrangements that we have.

‘The Good Friday Agreement depends on balance, it depends on both communities, both traditions in Northern Ireland feeling they’re being looked after.

‘I did the Protocol, I negotiated it. The problem is I thought it would be implemented with common sense and pragmatism.

‘The ultimate arbitrer of how to make it work, unfortunately, is the EU. I just think what is needed is more pragmatism and less theology.

‘Because at the moment what you’ve got is one community in Northern Ireland, the unionist/loyalist community, feeling there is a border down the Irish Sea, an East/West border.

‘That is inflaming their sentiment – they won’t go back into government in Northern Ireland unless we fix it.’

In a new report from his thinktank, Sir Tony proposed a series of steps both Britain and the EU could take to resolve the row.

The ex-PM described the current Protocol as ‘a bad deal’ that ‘didn’t resolve’ post-Brexit issues for Northern Ireland, while he accused Mr Johnson’s Government of being ‘now effectively in disorderly retreat from the agreement it made’.

Sir Tony warned that, if left unresolved, ‘the issues at the heart of the protocol have the capability of causing an enlarged trade conflict between the UK and the EU, or undermining the Good Friday Agreement – and quite possibly both’.

In a message to both Number 10 and Brussels, he added that ‘in the interests of broader European harmony and trade – especially at a time when Europe, including the UK, has come together impressively over Ukraine – both the EU and the UK should show maximum flexibility in order to reach an agreement’.

Sir Tony also demanded ‘significant movement’ from the EU’s current position in efforts to resolve the dispute.

But he suggested that Mr Johnson would have to negotiate directly with EU leaders and bypass ‘two bureaucratic systems’ in Brussels and London.

‘In this paper, we set out a practical way through, one that would obviate the vast majority of checks on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland, provide a compromise on the involvement of the Court of Justice of the EU, and give greater opportunities for consultation on draft EU laws affecting Northern Ireland to representatives from all sides of the community,’ he added in a foreword to the report.

‘It is, at least, a possible landing zone for resolution of the dispute. It could be done within the framework of the Protocol, but would require significant movement from the EU on its stated position around the Protocol’s interpretation.

‘My judgement – with long experience of EU negotiations – is that things have reached such a state of distrust that the two bureaucratic systems will not settle this; it has to be done at the highest political level because, ultimately, it is not a matter of technical work but political will and leadership.’

In the new report from the Tony Blair Foundation, the former Labour premier’s thinktank called for the UK and EU to agree a ‘Northern Ireland approved’ goods designation in order to reduce the checks needed on trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The report also proposed a ‘robust surveillance and enforcement system to prevent non-compliance’, as well as the creation of a ‘governance arrangement to manage future barriers to trade’.

It also proposed for both Northern Ireland and the UK Government to have ‘greater consultative opportunities on draft EU laws that apply to Northern Ireland’.

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