The Daily Express exclusively revealed last week that the Prime Minister was considering introducing a new law in the Queen’s Speech to quash EU customs checks in Northern Ireland. The law discussed inside No10 would have made clear Brussels had no legal right to impose checks on UK sovereign territory and unequivocally confirmed Northern Ireland’s place as a part of the Kingdom.
Trade between Britain and the province has been severely damaged by the implementation of EU customs checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea as part of the Northern Ireland Protocol agreed in the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly warned the bloc he will take action to rip up the Protocol if the EU does not renegotiate its terms.
But Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis last night dealt a heavy blow to those hoping for a breakthrough to be announced by the Government in the coming days.
Speaking on ITV’s Peston last night, Mr Lewis said: “Our focus is on resolving the issues with the protocol, ideally we want to do that by agreement with the European Union.”
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Pressed on if the Government was set to take action in next week’s Queen’s Speech, he added: “We’ve not said that”.
“What we’ve been clear about is at the moment, the protocol is causing problems in civic society, it’s causing problems with the Good Friday Agreement,” he continued.
“Our duty to the people of Northern Ireland is to resolve those issues.
“Yes, we want to do that with the EU and that’s what Liz Truss has been focused on.”
Reiterating the desire to work with Brussels to find a solution rather than introduce a new law, Mr Lewis later tweeted: “We will do whatever it takes to protect the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.
“It is clear that the Protocol does not have the support of the unionist community and is not working for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.
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“We have to address the outstanding issues and we want to do that by agreement with the EU, but as we have always made clear, we will not shy away from taking further steps if necessary.”
The decision is likely to met with anger and frustration from Unionists and backbench Tory MPs.
Conservative MPs have for months been urging the Prime Minister to take action on the Protocol, pointing to the lack of progress in talks as proof the EU is not serious about a renegotiation.
Talks between the two sides have been taking place since October but little progress has been made to date.
A source told our paper last week that Mr Johnson was attracted to the idea of a new law to protect Northern Ireland’s place as it would help strengthen to United Kingdom.
“Bold strokes are painted with broad brushes,” they said.
“It is important that the Prime Minister takes the opportunity to use the 80-seat majority he has for the benefit of the Union.
“The desire to preserve and strengthen the Union runs right across the Conservative Party – far deeper and more important than any differences on policy.”
Mr Johnson held a breakfast meeting in Downing Street on March 31 with the MPs, members of an 80-strong Tory backbench group campaigning to discuss the plans.
No10’s apparent decision to abandon the proposals comes despite polling showing broad support for such a measure.
A poll of 1,633 UK adults on April 27 and 28 by Techne UK for Express.co.uk found 61 percent would back the Prime Minister in passing legislation to defend the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Just 21 percent were against the idea, while 18 percent said they did not know.