The Prime Minister, who signed the Northern Ireland Protocol into law in January 2020, is expected to warn the European Commission President that the UK will trigger Article 16 if negotiations are not ramped up. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has also told officials to be ready to invoke Article 16 from next week.
The Remainer-turned-Brexiteer MP is said to have made the request in a bid to force a quick deal with the European Union, according to the Times.
Ms Truss, who took over from ex-Brexit Minister Lord David Frost in December, is thought to have “lost faith” in negotiations and wants Mr Johnson to warn Brussels the UK is ready to suspend parts of the Protocol if a deal is not reached before voters in Northern Ireland go to the polls in May.
A source, who described the EU as being “totally unreasonable”, told the broadsheet: “Liz has lost faith in the negotiations and wants the PM to tell VDL to force an intense period of negotiations or trigger Article 16 by May.”
However, another source claimed: “The PM is more hardline on this than Liz.”
The Times also reports that some officials in Whitehall would rather kick the “dispute into the long grass” while the West grapples with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
JUST IN: ‘What about Brexit?’ Farage blasts P&O as all UK crew to be replaced by cheaper workers
Article 16 would enable either party to unilaterally revoke measures enforced in the Protocol, which prevents a hard border on the Emerald Isle and keeps Ulster inside the EU’s single market, if it leads to “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.
The UK is thought to be pushing for a reduction in intra-UK checks and a concession which would allow goods that meet UK standards to be sold even if they fall foul of EU regulations.
Britain has also suggested the European Court of Justice should not be the enforcer of the Protocol.
However, the UK is unlikely to invoke Article 16 next week given US President Joe Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage and has previously voiced concern about tearing up the Protocol, is due to visit Brussels.
Unionist opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol has been visible in Ulster since the province and Great Britain diverged following the transition period.
This could seriously damage Northern Ireland’s economy given a staggering £10.9billion out of Ulster’s £22.1billion worth of exports went to Great Britain in 2020.
In comparison, just £4.1billion went to the Republic of Ireland and £2.2billion to other countries inside the European Union.
Esmond Birnie, an ex-Ulster Unionist Party MLA and economist, estimated the annual cost of the Protocol is £850million.
The Fraser Allander Institute, an economics research institute based at the University of Strathclyde, concluded the Protocol costs Northern Ireland £900million compared to a scenario in which the entire UK remained a member of the EU.