UK Prime Minister Boris Johnston has reportedly told the DUP this morning that he “is prepared to use Article 16” and to legislate if necessary to allow the free movement of agri-food produce across the UK.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster discussed the protocol and the problems that have arisen since its introduction during a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister on Wednesday morning (February 3).

The BBC has reported that Michael Gove has written to the European Commission seeking to extend the three-month 'grace period' until 2023.

The grace period reduces checks on produce moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

'A cavalier approach'

In a statement issued to press this afternoon, Foster said she "set out starkly" the damage the protocol is having on GB-NI trade and its impact on 'political balances', as well as the impact of the decision by the EU to propose to invoke Article 16.

It claimed the Prime Minister indicated he was "deeply shocked by the cavalier approach adopted by the EU” last Friday and without consultation.

"He recognised that such actions by the EU undermine the authority of the protocol. Again, it was made clear to him that the protocol is without support within the Unionist community," it read.

'A deadline of March 31'

"The Prime Minister said there was a duty under the Belfast Agreement to sort these matters out, that we could not have a situation within the United Kingdom where there were barriers to movement across a range of areas including plants, seed potatoes and British beef and that it was plain the protocol was being used in an absurd way.

"The Prime Minister said what the EU was doing “goes beyond the bounds of common sense”. The DUP again made clear that this the reality of what was agreed by the UK and EU.

The Prime Minister said that he would use all the instruments at his disposal, including that he “is prepared to use Article 16” to get things done and to legislate if necessary.

"The Prime Minister has said that his timetable for getting all these matters sorted is the end of March."

The DUP said that Northern Ireland’s place with the UK internal market had been "undermined" as a consequence of the "protectionist attitude" of the European Union.

"We want to see permanent solutions developed and barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland lifted. Sticking plaster solutions and grace periods that kick the can down the road will not solve these problems," the statement concluded.