Tory MP Richard Drax, speaking in a House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, questioned whether the UK will hold together and whether the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated by Boris Johnson would be “fit for purpose for the next five, 10 or 20 years”, while Cabinet Minister Michael Gove admitted that “It's not working at the moment”, promising “It can be made to work”.
Drax said that there was “a lot of anger in Northern Ireland” about the protocol and its creation of a customs border. He said that Brussels was unlikely to change its position on Northern Ireland, asking: “Do you think we'll keep the United Kingdom together or is this a major threat, as some would say, to the future of the United Kingdom?”
“Because if you recall, chancellor, you and I and many others worked to take the UK out of the EU as one single country. In that regard, we have failed, have we not?”
Gove responded that he believes the United Kingdom’s constitutional, territorial, and political integrity is unaffected.
He admitted that the protocol was not working at the moment, adding that Brussels had “opened a Pandora’s box” by invoking Article 16 last month in a bid to prevent vaccines from continental Europe from reaching the UK through Northern Ireland, while facing a deficit inside the bloc. He stressed that it was not possible for the UK to regard “with serene equanimity” the fact that legislation to implement the blockade was still in place. He told the committee that the incident had “eroded trust”, saying more movement was needed from the EU to “reset” relations.
European Union authorities moved to invoke Article 16 to introduce controls on the export of COVID-19 vaccines, to prevent the “leakage” of coronavirus vaccines into the UK through the Irish “backdoor”, causing a massive scandal.
Boris Johnson told European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen that he had "grave concerns", while Northern Irish First Minister Arlene Foster slammed the move as an "incredible act of hostility" from the EU.
The bloc backpedalled the same day, saying it would not be triggering the clause following widespread political pressure, including from EU member states.