Business Secretary Kwarsi Kwarteng said it was “absolutely right” that the government was prepared to tear up parts of Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade deals.
The minister also accused Brussels of being “unreasonable” in its approach to the Northern Ireland protocol.
But Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney said his country was also “frustrated” with the fallout from Brexit, which he said had cost it hundreds of millions of euros and threatened the peace process.
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Pressed on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday program whether the UK administration was prepared to drop parts of the deal, Mr Kwarteng said: ‘Absolutely right.
He added: “We’ve had a number of people in this country whose presumption was that the government is always wrong and the EU is always right.
“It’s clearly too simplistic. We tried to negotiate.
“The protocol itself indicates that it can be repealed unilaterally if it is found not to work.
“And clearly, if political stability is our number one priority, and people are saying they’re not going to go to power-sharing if there’s no change, we have to look very carefully at how we can change him.
“Article 16 is part of the protocol itself, and…it says very clearly that it is possible to modify it unilaterally.
“Unilaterally means we can do it ourselves without having to come to an agreement with the EU.”
Mr Kwarteng added: “I think the EU is being unreasonable, frankly.
“They won’t show a lot of flexibility and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in.
“The protocol is not working and we have to be prepared to invoke Article 16.”
He also downplayed the prospect of a trade war if the UK followed through on its threat.
EU leaders have warned of retaliatory action if the UK invokes Article 16 of the protocol to unilaterally suspend some of the arrangements, including the requirement for checks on goods traveling through Britain to the UK. ‘North Ireland.
Mr Kwarteng said it would take “a very long time” for any new EU tariffs to be approved and that it was important the UK was prepared to act unilaterally to maintain political stability in Northern Ireland.
“Political stability in Northern Ireland is our number one priority. We should be able to act sovereignly. Northern Ireland is as much about the UK as it is about England, Cornwall, the South East, and we are responsible for it.
“Any pricing situation should be arbitrated. It’s not something they can do willy-nilly, arbitrarily.
Referring to Article 16, he said: “It allows people to act unilaterally and ultimately we have to be prepared to invoke it.
“I don’t think they will necessarily be able to arbitrarily impose tariffs.
“I think it will take a long time for this process to work.
“As far as I’m concerned, we absolutely have the right to invoke Article 16 and reopen or reconsider the protocol.”
But Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney told Ridge: “The EU wants to keep negotiating, wants to be flexible, wants to compromise.”
He added: “Ireland is also frustrated. We are now facing the consequences of a decision by the British people on our own country which has cost us hundreds of millions of euros, which is jeopardizing the peace process and its institutions on the island of Ireland.
“When we focus on frustrations, we have to think beyond Westminster.”
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