UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said the Brexit settlement in Northern Ireland is causing economic and political harm and called on the European Union to be flexible, comments likely to be seen as an attempt to publicly align himself with Boris Johnson after reports of a rift.

Johnson’s government is weighing whether to scrap parts of the deal it signed with the EU related to Northern Ireland, arguing it is undermining the region’s peace agreement by fueling instability, while also disrupting commerce.

The political risks have been amplified in recent weeks, with Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government paralyzed after the pro-UK Democratic Unionist Party said it would refuse to sit in the executive if the Brexit deal remained.

Yet any unilateral action may trigger a broader trade war with the EU, hurting Britain’s economy at a time of soaring inflation and squeezed living standards. Newspapers including the Times have reported Sunak is one of the ministers who have urged Johnson to proceed with caution.

In an Bloomberg interview in Stoke-on-Trent broadcast Friday, Sunak stressed it is his cabinet role to provide economic advice, while pointing out that’s one element for the government to consider and that no decision has been taken.


“It’s a serious situation,” he said. “It’s important to me that we also protect the Good Friday Agreement and we resume power-sharing in Northern Ireland.”

The UK and EU failed to resolve their differences over the Northern Ireland issue in crunch talks on Thursday, with Truss telling European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic that current arrangements are causing “unacceptable disruption to trade.”

In turn, Sefcovic warned the UK that there could be no future partnership without an “orderly withdrawal” from the bloc.

Britain agreed to an effective customs border in the Irish Sea during the original Brexit negotiations, the solution to avoid creating a hard border between Northern Ireland—which is in the UK—and the Republic of Ireland, which is in the EU. The UK has been urging the EU to accept wholesale revisions to this agreement, which the EU has refused.

“Our preference has always been to have a negotiated settlement,” Sunak said of the situation with the EU. “What we need to see is a degree of flexibility.”