Ministers are preparing to outline their proposals to Parliament for solving the “serious challenges” caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Boris Johnson used a phone call on Tuesday with his Dublin counterpart Micheal Martin to urge “pragmatism” in order to mend the issues being created by the post-Brexit terms, as reports suggest the UK will put itself on a collision course with the European Union over its mooted solutions.
The Financial Times said Brexit minister Lord Frost, who is due to give a statement to peers on Wednesday, will outline a strategy that seeks to eliminate most checks on goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Conservative peer told Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee that the only way to make the Protocol work was to “hugely reduce or eliminate the barriers” that have effectively created a border down the Irish Sea since it came into force in January.
In a bid to deliver on that aim, the FT said Lord Frost will push for an “honesty box” approach to allow companies in Great Britain that declare their goods are only destined for sale and use in Northern Ireland to skip border checks.
The Protocol was negotiated as part of Britain’s divorce from Brussels to avoid a hard border with Ireland, by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.
But the introduction of checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea has angered Unionists, who have protested against it in recent months, arguing the Brexit terms have weakened Northern Ireland’s links with the rest of the UK.
The UK Government has also said the checks and added red tape have caused trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to decline.
Separately, US State department spokesman Ned Price told reporters it would be “watching” events in the UK.
He added: “As we’ve consistently said over time, we do support a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and we encourage them to negotiate within the existing mechanisms when differences do arise.
“We’ve consistently said that we welcome the provisions in both the trade and cooperation agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol between the UK and the European Union, which, importantly, help to protect the gains of the Belfast and Good Friday Agreement.”
During a conversation with the Irish Taoiseach, the Prime Minister reminded his counterpart that the Protocol needed to protect the peace in Northern Ireland in “all its dimensions” – a reference to the need for it to satisfy both Nationalists and Unionists.
Following the phone call on Tuesday, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister emphasised that the way the Protocol is currently operating is causing significant disruption for the people in Northern Ireland.
“He made clear the UK Government’s commitment to protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions.
“He said the EU must show pragmatism and solutions needed to be found to address the serious challenges that have arisen with the Protocol.
“The Prime Minister said that the UK Government would outline its approach on the Northern Ireland Protocol to Parliament tomorrow.”
The Taoiseach told Mr Johnson that the proposals set to be announced in Westminster would be “carefully considered”, according to the Irish Government.
Mr Martin also stressed that there was already a EU-UK framework for dealing with issues related to the Protocol.
The men had been due to meet in person in the UK, until Mr Johnson was told to self-isolate after coming into close contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for coronavirus at the weekend.
Lord Frost – who negotiated the UK’s split from the EU – told MPs on Monday that the UK Government was “keeping all options on the table” to resolve issues with the Protocol, including triggering Article 16, which would allow the unilateral overruling of the agreement.
The FT said Lord Frost, whose statement will be read to the Commons by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, is preparing to tell the EU that the UK is within its rights to activate Article 16 due to the disruption the Protocol is causing.