BORIS Johnson’s Brexit minister has demanded the Northern Ireland trade protocol be replaced with an entirely “new arrangement”.

In a hardline speech to EU diplomats in Lisbon, Lord Frost warned Brussels it would be an “historic misjudgment” not to fix a broken system that was drawn up “in great haste”, and hinted darkly that sectarian violence could follow.

He said the way the protocol had been operating had “shredded” the balance between the Unionist and Nationalist communities, with Unionists having lost all faith in it.

Lord Frost, who with the PM agreed to the protocol in 2019, said a “short but real opportunity” existed to defuse a looming crisis that threatened the peace.

He said he wanted a new system that let UK goods move freely in the UK, and international arbitration instead of the European Court of Justice policing its operation.

He said the UK was prepared to trigger Article 16 of the protocol – which allows either side to override large parts of the agreement – if that could not be achieved.

He said: “It is this Government, the UK Government, that governs Northern Ireland as it does the rest of the UK. Northern Ireland is not EU territory. It is our responsibility to safeguard peace and prosperity and that may include using Article 16 if necessary.

“We would not go down this route gratuitously or with any particular pleasure but it is our fundamental responsibility to safeguard peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and that is why we cannot rest until this situation is addressed.”

The NI protocol is intended to ensure the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic stays open while protecting the single market, which Northern Ireland remains a part of.

But checks on goods crossing to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK has led to tensions between London and Brussels and within Northern Ireland, where Unionists fear the undermining of the Union. 

The EU will today table its own proposals on improving the protocol ahead of negotiations. Lord Frost said the UK would consider them “seriously, fully and positively”.

But he added: “We now face a very serious situation. The protocol is not working. It has completely lost consent in one community in Northern Ireland.

“It is not doing the thing it was set up to do – protect the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. In fact it is doing the opposite. It has to change.

“The fundamental difficulty is that we are being asked to run a full-scale external boundary of the EU through the centre of our country, to apply EU law without consent in part of it, and to have any dispute on these arrangements settled in the court of one of the parties.

“The way this is happening is disrupting ordinary lives, damaging large and small businesses, and causing serious turbulence to the institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement within Northern Ireland.”

He went on: “The EU and we have got into a low equilibrium, somewhat fractious relationship, but it need not always be like that. But also it takes two to fix it.

“Fixing the very serious problem we have in the Northern Ireland Protocol is a prerequisite for getting to that better place.”

On a visit to Orkney yesterday, UK Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: "I think many people listening to Lord Frost and the Conservative Government complaining about the Northern Irish Protocol, will say well, hold on a minute – you signed it.

"I've rarely seen [such] an example of gross incompetence and total hypocrisy. They want to blame everyone else rather than take any responsibility whatsoever."