The UK has unveiled a set of new demands to overhaul the post-Brexit trade arrangements on Northern Ireland agreed with the EU.
The government says border controls on goods from the UK, which is committed to as part of the 2019 Brexit divorce deal, have proved unsustainable.
Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, said they risked damaging businesses and destroying the “fabric” of the UK.
The EU has said it will not agree to renegotiate the terms of the 2019 deal.
The controls are contained in the Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the Brexit deal that aims to avoid border controls on the island of Ireland.
Lord Frost urged the EU to look at the UK’s proposals with “fresh eyes”, adding, “We cannot carry on as we are. We cannot continue as we are”.
However, he announced that the UK would not trigger Article 16 of the protocol – which would allow part of the Brexit deal to be suspended – before negotiations with Brussels.
He added that the government believed its intervention was justified, but said, “We have concluded, however, that we have not. We have concluded, however, that now is not the time.”
Lord Frost told the House of Lords that “there is a growing sense in Northern Ireland that we have not got the balance right, reflected in the continuing intense political atmosphere, the protests and the occasional unfortunate incidents of disruption.”
He also called on the EU to agree to a “standstill period” to prevent a ban on the supply of frozen meat products, such as sausages, from the UK coming into effect when the full terms of the deal come into force in September.
He later told reporters that “it is perfectly normal to change treaties in the light of experience, and it happens all the time”.
In a 28-page document, the UK government proposes the following changes.
Removal of customs controls on goods if the UK-registered company shipping the goods specifies Northern Ireland as the final destination.
Removal of certificates and controls for food “for consumption in Northern Ireland only”.
Complete exclusion of pharmaceutical products from the scope of the Protocol.
Allows free movement of UK compliant labeled products in Northern Ireland alongside EU-registered products.
The protocol was agreed to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, as both the UK and the EU want to avoid a repeat of the Troubles that lasted 30 years and killed more than 3,500 people.
According to the agreement, Northern Ireland remains part of the EU’s single market for goods, which means it meets the criteria set by Brussels.
In terms of trade, the main practical difficulty is the movement of food from the UK to Northern Ireland, which can then be shipped into the EU across the Irish land border.
Dominic Cummings, a former senior adviser to the British prime minister, told political editor Laura Kuenssberg that the deal was a “fiction”.
He added that both sides wanted to “sign something that neither side really wanted and postpone the difficult issues into the future”.
European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said the EU was ready to “look for creative solutions within the framework of the protocol” to alleviate border problems.
But he added that the 27-member Union would not accept a “renegotiation” of the UK’s Brexit deal.
Respect for international legal obligations is paramount,” he added.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said.” We welcome the government’s acceptance of the fact that the protocol is not working, that it is causing real damage to our economy in Northern Ireland and that it is simply not sustainable.”
He described the UK government’s statement and publication of a guide outlining the requirements as an “important first step”.
However, Sinn Fein’s Brexit spokesperson Declan Kearney called on the British government to “stop running away” and get to work implementing the agreed deal.