Boris Johnson has risked heightening tensions with the EU after accusing Brussels of implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol in an “insane” and petty way.
The British prime minister told MPs he never thought when negotiating the agreement that scores of businesses would stop supplying Northern Ireland.
He adopted a noticeably more abrasive tone than UK foreign secretary Liz Truss, who told MPs earlier this week “there is a deal to be done” to resolve the deadlock over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The protocol is aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland but has created a series of economic barriers on Irish Sea trade.
Speaking in the UK House of Commons, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “The Prime Minister will know that many families across the United Kingdom are struggling with the increased cost of living and rising energy costs, but in Northern Ireland that is compounded by the protocol.
“Twenty-seven per cent is the increase in the cost of bringing goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland – when we can get access to those goods.
“It is costing business £2.5 million every day, which is almost £1 billion a year. That is the cost of the protocol.
“The Prime Minister talks about uniting this nation and levelling up; he could do that by removing the Irish Sea border and restoring Northern Ireland’s place fully within the UK internal market.”
Mr Johnson replied: “I support passionately (Sir Jeffrey’s) indignation.
“Yes, I never thought, when we negotiated, that it would mean 200 businesses would stop supplying Northern Ireland, foods being blocked and Christmas cards being surcharged.
“Frankly, the EU is implementing this in an insane and pettifogging way. We need to sort it out and I completely support what he says.”
Earlier, Conservative former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers urged the UK government to replace the protocol in its entirety.
She told Northern Ireland questions: “The Northern Ireland Protocol is clearly causing political instability.
“Will the Secretary of State agree that it needs replacing, not just a few amendments?”
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said Ms Villiers “makes an important point”, adding: “The protocol is not working and, clearly, the feedback we get from businesses across Northern Ireland is that it is not sustainable in its current form and needs to be dealt with, it needs to be fixed, and that’s what the Foreign Secretary and I are working together on to ensure we can do, and do well, for the people in Northern Ireland.”
Conservative MP Peter Bone (Wellingborough) later made a similar call, saying: “The Secretary of State says the Northern Ireland Protocol isn’t working and he is right. Why don’t we scrap it?”