BORIS JOHNSON has been warned that any unilateral changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol by the UK Government could “fundamentally undermine the functioning of the institutions of the peace process”.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister For Foreign Affairs, said reports 
last week that his counterpart in Whitehall, Liz Truss, is set to publish domestic legislation giving the UK Government the right to suspend elements of the Brexit trade agreement “could be deeply harmful for the relationship between Britain and Ireland”. 

The Prime Minister heads to Belfast today in an attempt to try 
and ease tensions and end the political deadlock.

Despite this month’s elections, Stormont remains empty, with members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refusing to take their place in the Northern Ireland Assembly until changes are made to the protocol. 

As the leader of the largest party, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill is entitled to be nominated as First Minister. 

She has promised to tell the Prime Minister to “stop pandering to the DUP” and to start encouraging 
them to “get on and work with the [European] Commission and find ways to smooth the implementation of the protocol and stop holding us to ransom for their game playing”.

However, Downing Street said Mr Johnson will tell party leaders that the protocol is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement.

He will say there is “no disguising the fact” that the delicate balance of the agreement has been upset by the protocol, because “one strand of the Agreement (North-South) has taken precedent over another (East-West).” 

This, Mr Johnson will argue, undermines the text of the Agreement, which makes clear that all strands are of “interlocking and of equal importance”. 

The protocol – which was part of the UK’s 2019 Brexit deal with the European Union – prevents the 
need for a trade and customs border between the north and south of Ireland by effectively putting one between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 

It means there are checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, but none between Northern Ireland and what is ultimately the EU. 

The problem for Downing Street and the unionists in the north is 
that there needs to be a trade and customs border somewhere between the EU and the UK. 

Placing one between the north and south of Ireland would be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement.  

The UK is hoping the European Commission could widen the list of products that are exempt from checks at Northern Ireland ports and, crucially, limit the role the European court of justice has in administering the protocol. 

Brussels has made clear that there is limited chance of change and that they could forced to retaliate if the UK acts unilaterally.

There's a fear that the row could see tariffs or quota restrictions.

Last week, trade body Salmon Scotland warned that could have a major impact on Britain’s export market. Sales of salmon to the EU were worth a staggering £372 million last year.

However, in a media round yesterday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the UK would be within its rights to trigger Article 16 — the clause allowing either side to take unilateral “safeguard” measures if there are serious “economic, societal or environmental difficulties” that are likely to persist.

“There has been a lot of talk, a lot of threats, about what the EU will or won’t do. That is up to them,” Mr Kwarteng told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme.

“As far as I am concerned, our primary duty as the British government is to look after political stability in Northern Ireland. If that means relooking at the protocol, we absolutely have to do that.

“I think this talk of a trade war is irresponsible and I think it is completely getting ahead of ourselves.

“It is up to the EU. We think it would be completely self-defeating if they went into a trade war, but that is up to them.”

“Northern Ireland is as much of the United Kingdom as England, Cornwall, the South East, and we are responsible for that,” he told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme earlier.

Mr Coveney said that it was “disingenuous and dangerous” to claim that the Belfast Agreement is incompatible with the Northern Ireland protocol.

He told Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News: “What I see at the moment is a British government making statements and briefing against the EU, and creating a lot of tension in my country, your closest neighbour, and also potentially being on the verge of making a decision that could fundamentally undermine the functioning of the institutions of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

“Let’s not forget, this is not only about unionism, of course it needs to be partly about unionism, but a majority of people in Northern Ireland voted against Brexit and would vote against Brexit again in the morning it was put to them.”

He said walking away from the arrangements would “send headlines around the world that Britain is prepared to break international law”.

Speaking to the BBC Scotland's Sunday Show, Scotland Office minister Malcolm Offord denied the public had been conned by Brexiteer promises before the 2016 referendum.

"Where we are right now, the delicate balance of the Good Friday agreement is being undermined in Northern Ireland.

"Trade is being seriously disrupted between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and we don’t have a working government in Northern Ireland. It’s not working."