New border controls between Northern Ireland and Great Britain included in Boris Johnson's Brexit deal should not be implemented because they will undermine support for the agreement among unionists, the Government has said.
Michael Gove, who is overseeing the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, told MPs the EU's "maximalist" interpretation of the agreement, signed by the Prime Minister in January, was unsustainable.
"The argument we're making to the EU is if you insist on significant new infrastructure and a significant new presence, what you will do is actually make the protocol less acceptable to the majority community in Northern Ireland. Therefore, you run the risk of the protocol being voted down in a future election," Mr Gove told Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
"If you want to genuinely, as you say, help people in Northern Ireland, then you'll go with the approach in our command paper."
The Cabinet Office minister argued that "the really important thing in Northern Ireland is not adherence to a maximalist approach towards a protocol" but rather "respecting the fact that Northern Ireland has said again and again that we are part of the United Kingdom".
While the Government accepts that goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be subject to new controls, it disputes whether businesses moving goods in the opposite direction across the Irish Sea should have to fill in "exit summary declarations", as envisaged by the withdrawal agreement.
Mr Gove told the committee that "unfettered access would mean that there would be no discrimination exercised towards Northern Ireland businesses or citizens. They're fully citizens of the United Kingdom".
"So, for any individual or business in Northern Ireland, there will be unimpeded, unfettered access for those goods to the rest of the UK," he added.
"When it comes to goods going from GB to NI there are additional new processes. We want to make them as light-touch as possible."
Mr Gove yesterday denied a no-deal exit from the transition period on January 1 would lead to more paperwork for Northern Irish business. He said: "When it comes to goods moving from Northern Ireland into the rest of the United Kingdom, the situation will be exactly the same, come what may."
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis tried to ease the concerns of businesses in the face of firms expressing confusion about what is likely to happen. He said: "We have been very clear, there will be no new customs infrastructure.
"Those businesses should not see any change. Their business should be able to continue straight from Northern Ireland into the rest of the UK and take place in the same way it does now."