The DUP’s Edwin Poots said he has instructed legal experts to look into the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has been implemented since January as part of divorce negotiations agreed in 2019. Accusing the deal of being unconstitutional, he said the deal had caused a barrier to trade and risked undermining the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Mr Poots said: “Ultimately the Protocol needs to go.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol has effectively created a trade border down the Irish Sea, goods travelling from Britain to the province require customs checks to ensure they meet EU rules and regulations.
However, the measure has angered unionists, who accuse it of disrupting trade within the United Kingdom and say it breaks the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Poots said he was preparing to take legal action against both the UK Government and the EU for the introduction of the customs checks.
“It is my intention to lodge judicial proceedings against the Protocol,” Mr Poots said.
“I would hope that the Department for Economy and Department for Health – because this is having major implications for medicines and medical devices – will join with us in taking an action against the European Union and UK Government for the damage that it is inflicting on all of the people of Northern Ireland.”
He said an eminent QC has been appointed, and is “currently scrutinising every aspect of that protocol”.
“This has been imposed by Westminster, paid for by Westminster to placate the demands of Dublin and indeed the pro-Protocol parties, that is Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Green Party and as a result every consumer will feel the pain of this protocol,” he added.
The threat of legal action comes after Mr Poots announced he is running to replace Arlene Foster as leader of the DUP.
Ms Foster announced last week she was stepping down as leader of the party, and as First Minister, amid growing anger among her own party at her handling of Brexit.
The UK Government has already extended the grace periods on some customs checks by six months in order to avoid friction in goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Bureaucratic paperwork due from the start of April was unilaterally pushed back until September by ministers.
Lord Frost has been holding meetings with his European counterpart, Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič to try and find long-lasting solutions to problems caused by the Protcol.
Yesterday EU officials suggested the UK should align with Brussels regulations to minimise trade disruption.
However, the proposals have been sharply rebuked by No10 today.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’re open to an arrangement based on equivalence.
“We cannot accept arrangements that are based on dynamic alignment with the EU in perpetuity.
“That’s our position and that position continues. Discussions on the Protocol continue.”