Michael Gove has warned the EU that “no option is off the table”, including ignoring parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, after the UK argued the solution put forward by Brussels last October would worsen food shortages.
Gove, a senior cabinet minister, said it would not amount to tearing up the protocol but he left open the possibility that the UK could pass legislation to disapply parts of the controversial framework.
Talks between the UK and EU are at a standstill over the protocol, which aligns Northern Ireland more closely on regulations and trade with the EU than the rest of the UK – putting a border down the Irish Sea.
The EU is refusing to renegotiate as it was agreed by both sides as part of the post-Brexit agreement, but the situation is causing tensions in Northern Ireland, where the Democratic Unionist party is refusing to resume power-sharing in the executive without changes. Sinn Féin pushed the DUP into second position in the assembly elections last week.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday, Gove said: “We are going to negotiate with the EU in order to get the best possible outcome for the people of Northern Ireland, but no option is off the table.
“Liz Truss will be meeting Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice-president, tomorrow. They have a good relationship. They will try to make progress tomorrow. I know that both of them are fully committed to making sure we resolve some very difficult issues that have arisen.
“You would expect a UK government when it is thinking about the security of the entire United Kingdom to say that there is no option that is off the table and that is absolutely right.”
It comes after Truss, the foreign secretary, criticised proposals put forward by the EU last October for “failing to properly address the real issues affecting Northern Ireland and in some cases would take us backward”.
She said Lincolnshire sausages and other chilled meats from Great Britain would need a veterinary certificate to enter Northern Ireland and food from outside the EU, such as Thai green curry ready meals, New Zealand lamb and Brazilian pork, would not be available in the shops.
Truss said prices had risen, trade was being badly disrupted, and the people of Northern Ireland were subject to different laws and taxes than those over the Irish Sea, which she said posed a threat to peace and stability.
“The answer cannot be more checks, paperwork and disruption. Our preference has always been for a negotiated solution but will not shy away from taking action to stabilise the situation in Northern Ireland if solutions cannot be found,” she said.
Boris Johnson is backing Truss, making clear to the Irish taoiseach Micheál Martin on Tuesday that the situation with the protocol was “very serious”.
But the EU has responded to her threats to disapply parts of the protocol by ruling out any renegotiation.
Šefčovič, the European commission vice-president responsible for post-Brexit relations, said: “From the very beginning, the EU has worked tirelessly to propose creative and durable solutions, showing flexibility on how the protocol should be implemented.
“The protocol, as a cornerstone of the withdrawal agreement, is an international agreement. Its renegotiation is not an option. The European Union is united in this position.”