Implementing the protocol in full would result in “an economic tsunami” hitting Northern Ireland, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.
Responding to a tweet from a member of the US House of Representatives, the DUP leader said that calling on the Northern Ireland Protocol to be implemented in full was “such folly”.
He said: “Implementing the protocol in full means ending grace periods, with an economic tsunami hitting Northern Ireland. Power sharing only works with cross community consensus.
“There is no unionist support for the protocol. The protocol will destroy the GFA if not dealt with.”
US House of Representatives’ member Brendan Boyle had called on the UK Government to “implement fully the NI Protocol, which avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland, preserves the integrity of the EU Internal Market, and protects the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts”.
UUP leader Doug Beattie also criticised Mr Boyle’s comments: “I honesty doubt they understand the Belfast Agreement, either that or they are wilfully ignoring the East-West dimensions of the Agreement.
“I hope it’s the former because if it is the latter they are part of the problem and a barrier to a solution.”
Tensions have been mounting over the Northern Ireland protocol in recent weeks, since it first emerged that the UK Government intended to unilaterally remove or drastically change the protocol by introducing new legislation to the House of Commons in the coming weeks.
In an interview with The Telegraph on Sunday, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said that he believed if Brussels did not give ground, that the collapse of the Stormont Executive could be indefinite.
He also said it was a mistake for the EU to wait until after the Northern Ireland elections to try to broker a compromise on the protocol.
“I made this point to the EU myself before the elections. My view was, it was much easier to get a deal before the elections than afterwards. The idea that it was going to be easier after the elections was a crazy one from the EU.”
The move by the UK Government has been criticised by the Irish government and the EU, as well as by parties in Northern Ireland including Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party.
Earlier on Sunday, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long told Sky News that she understood that border issues were “difficult” for unionists, but that it was an “inevitability as a consequence of Brexit”.
“Unfortunately, Brexit put borders and border friction back on the agenda, and that is very difficult for the very delicate ecology of Northern Ireland to deal with,” she said.
The DUP has refused to elect a speaker to the Northern Ireland Assembly in order to put pressure on the UK Government to change or remove the protocol.
Mr Lewis told the Telegraph: “The DUP are refusing to nominate because they’ve got a mandate through the election, as the largest party in unionism, not to nominate until the protocol is resolved. And at the moment, the protocol, which the EU claims is about protecting the Good Friday Agreement, is the very document putting the Good Friday Agreement most at risk.”
A US delegation is currently visiting Ireland, the UK and Belgium as part of a trade mission and to “underscore the significance of the Good Friday Agreement”.
Members of the delegation met Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan on Saturday.
Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee Richard Neal thanked Ms Truss for the “frank discussion regarding our duty to protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland”.
“I urge good faith negotiations with the EU to find durable solutions for post-Brexit trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” he said after the meeting.
Speaking from west Kerry on Sunday, Mr Neal said “whatever challenges that are offered by the protocol, we think can be negotiated”.
“President Biden, Speaker Pelosi and I have made our position known that nothing can jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement,” he told RTE.
“Coming up to the 25th anniversary it should be celebrated widely, not just on this island, but across the world.”
DUP East Antrim MLA Gordon Lyons said the DUP looks forward to meeting the US delegation later this week, but added that “they must recognise that the protocol has undermined the Good Friday Agreement”.
“Since the protocol’s inception, not one unionist MLA or MP has supported it, yet it has continued to have the support of Washington throughout,” Mr Lyons said.
“Key influencers in the US administration have continually demonstrated a total misunderstanding of the Belfast Agreement, the border and consent.
“They should admit their one-side mistakes if they want to be taken seriously by unionists.
“It is high time the American administration recognised the fundamental importance of securing the support of both unionists and nationalists. Without such support devolution cannot function.”
There has been controversy over the Northern Ireland Protocol since its inception.
Created to avoid the return of checkpoints along the Irish border, after years of negotiation it was agreed that new Brexit regulatory and customs processes would be placed along the Irish Sea.
Both London and Brussels agreed to this as part of the final Brexit negotiations.
Since its implementation in early 2021, the EU and UK agree that the protocol does not work as smoothly as it should, and both sides engaged in further negotiations.
Grace periods were introduced for some new Brexit trade rules in the protocol, meaning retailers and exporters do not yet have to adhere to all the checks and standards required.