The new DUP leader Edwin Poots has accused the European Union of damaging the NI peace process.
The DUP leader Edwin Poots has accused the European Union of treating Northern Ireland as a political “plaything”.
Mr Poots claimed the EU was damaging the Northern Ireland peace process.
The European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, firmly rejected that suggestion.
Speaking on the Marr programme on BBC One, Mr Poots said the current EU commissioners did not seem to care about the peace process.
He said he shared the fear of his predecessor Arlene Foster that anger over the Northern Ireland Protocol could lead to violence on the streets this summer.
He said: “I don’t want to use a threat of violence in terms of this.
“Our arguments are very clear, they are very coherent.
“This is the European Union seeking to punish the UK and, as a consequence, Northern Ireland is being used as a plaything.
“I can assure you, Northern Ireland should be nobody’s plaything.”
He urged the UK government to consider invoking Article 16 of the protocol, which allows either side to suspend any part of the agreement that causes “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.
On the same programme, the European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, firmly rejected any suggestion that the EU no longer cared about the peace process.
He expressed “total commitment to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement”.
He said the protocol brought economic opportunity for Northern Ireland and added that he was working “flat out” to ensure that the protocol worked “smoothly”.
Mr Sefcovic suggested a temporary Swiss-style veterinary agreement as a solution for Northern Ireland, where the UK continues to follow all EU agrifood rules.
He said such a deal could be done in weeks and would remove 80% of GB-NI checks.
Mr Poots also rejected this proposal saying: “That struck me as a temporary solution. I want permanent solutions to take the barriers away and provide security in terms of the single market.”
He suggested providing checks between GB and the EU in Northern Ireland “that doesn’t have to be at the border, it can be at another location in NI including the ports”.
Mr Sefcovic said he wants to meet the Northern Ireland Executive parties soon.
“I would like to hear from Mr Poots himself but also from other leaders of the political parties who form the Northern Ireland Executive, and discuss with them what we can do better,” he said.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the DUP “need to be honest with people” over Brexit.
“Any difficulties being faced by businesses or traders are a direct result of the Brexit the DUP campaigned for, and now must take responsibility for,” she said.
Ms O’Neill said “no credible alternative” to the Northern Ireland Protocol exists, adding that it must be implemented to protect the Good Friday Agreement and prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
She said Brexit “is not an excuse for violence” and called on unionist leaders to state that “there can be no place for threats of violence in our society.”
Alliance councillor Sorcha Eastwood described the interview with Mr Poots as “bizarre”.
In a tweet, the Lagan Valley representative said Mr Poots was “painting a picture of NI which I certainly don’t recognise”.
The SDLP’s Matthew O’Toole tweeted that Mr Poots’ rejection of a temporary Swiss-style deal was “a bizarre line to take”.
The south Belfast MLA said a Swiss-style deal would “reduce checks across the board rather than just for big supermarkets”.