Tearing up post-Brexit trade arrangements in Northern Ireland would inflict “economic vandalism”, the Irish prime minister has warned.
Micheal Martin said it would be a “very serious situation” if the UK Government pressed ahead with legislation to ditch key parts the Northern Ireland Protocol.
He insisted the European Union wanted to avoid a trade war and argued issues over the controversial deal could be resolved through negotiation.
His comments came after Brussels launched fresh legal action against the UK in retaliation for the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would effectively rip up the bulk of the deal signed by Boris Johnson and the EU in 2019.
Critics have warned it would be an “unacceptable breach” of international law and fuel distrust of Britain.
The treaty agreed by the UK and EU as a way to maintain a free-flowing Irish land border following Brexit has created economic barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, causing resentment and anger among many unionists and loyalists.
The row has created an impasse in efforts to form a devolved government administration in Belfast.
The UK is planning unilateral action to introduce separate “green” and “red” lanes for goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, drawing a line between those destined to stay within the UK and those heading to the Republic of Ireland and beyond.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Martin said: “If this Bill is enacted, I think we’re into a very serious situation.”
He added: “It represents unilateralism of the worst kind in terms of honouring and adhering to international agreements that governments adhere to and sign up to and ratify in their parliaments.
“We accept fully there are legitimate issues around the operation of the protocol and we believe with serious, sustained negotiations between the European Union and United Kingdom Government those issues could be resolved.
“In effect it represents a form of economic vandalism on Northern Ireland because if we look at any objective data, it is now showing that the Northern Ireland economy is doing very well.
“Manufacturing is doing very well. The dairy industry, the meat industry, the food industry generally and agriculture is doing very well.
“There are certain areas where we can improve the protocol and we should continue to do that.”
Mr Martin added: “We want this resolved. We believe it can be resolved with goodwill.
“We believe we know where there’s a landing zone to resolve issues around the operation of the protocol to give Northern Ireland the best chance in terms of access to the European Union Market and the UK market.
“That would position Northern Ireland well in terms of inward investment.”
The dispute could ultimately lead to a trade war, with tariffs or even the suspension of the entire Brexit deal between the UK and European Union, however Mr Martin said all sides want to avoid that.
“Nobody wants a trade war in any shape or form,” he added.