Response to plans to scrap parts of protocol ‘more muted’ than expected, says PM

The Prime Minister has insisted that the response to plans to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol was more “muted” than expected.

His comments, which came during a visit to Rwanda overshadowed by defeats in a pair of crunch by-elections, came as MPs prepare to debate the controversial proposed legislation on Monday.

It is despite renewed legal action by the EU since the Bill was announced.

Boris Johnson’s administration has argued that the measures to remove checks on goods and animal and plant products travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are necessary to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement and peace and stability.

Unionist opposition to the imposition of checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland has seen the Democratic Unionist Party refuse to return to the powersharing executive, leaving the region without a functioning government.

But the plans to unilaterally override parts of the protocol – agreed between the UK and the EU – prompted outrage in European capitals.

The Irish government in particular has repeatedly appealed to the UK to step back from taking the drastic action on the protocol.

An anti-Northern Ireland Protocol sign close to Larne Port
An anti-Northern Ireland Protocol sign close to Larne Port (Liam McBurney/PA)

“Generally speaking, I think it’s quite interesting that the reaction around the table amongst our friends has been much more muted than I think people were expecting,” the Prime Minister told journalists travelling with him in Rwanda.

“That’s because, you know, in the end, we don’t want to fall out over this. We want a solution.”

The Prime Minister also played down concerns over legal challenges to the Government over the Bill.

“We’ve got a legal case against us for failing to have proper customs procedures, all sorts of things,” he said.

Mr Johnson also rejected suggestions, emanating from some EU leaders, that the effort to reshape the protocol was simply an attempt to appease Tory hardliners.

“Do you really think that most Conservative MPs or most people in the country are thinking about this problem? They’re not,” he said.

“I’m afraid to say that this is an issue that is entirely to do with the balance of the political situation in Northern Ireland. And we have to respect that.

“This is something that I didn’t want to do. I wanted the protocol to work. I, after all, agreed the thing.

“When I read it, I looked at it with the eyes of optimism, and I thought that there was enough stuff in it if you read it carefully, there’s enough language in it about east-west trade and the UK internal market, to make you think that the EU could make it operate in a way that wasn’t burdensome for businesses trying to do business east-west between GB and NI.

“That isn’t how it has been operated.

“It’s caused Stormont to collapse. There’s a great deal of ill-feeling about it in one community in Northern Ireland.

“I think that with a few quite bureaucratic fixes you can remove some of these vexatious barriers and sort it out, that’s what we’re trying to do.”