DUP leader Edwin Poots has lambasted the EU for using Northern Ireland as a "plaything" over Brexit.

He also accused the EU of doing "demonstrable harm" to the peace process and said he is concerned of violence this summer due to anger over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Poots said once the grace periods on post-Brexit checks on goods from Britain ends, there will be 15,000 checks per week at Northern Ireland's ports - more, he said, than take place in Rotterdam, Europe's biggest port.

"We really need to ditch the Protocol and ditch these checks because they are hugely damaging to the lowest paid workers," he said.

Mr Poots said while the European Commission over the years "put their heart and soul into winning peace in Northern Ireland", they currently "don't seem to care for the peace process... that really needs to change, that attitude needs to change, they are doing demonstrable harm to every individual in Northern Ireland and it is having a devastating impact".

He said the UK government had the grounds to trigger Article 16 due to economic and societal damage, which he described as "very evident".

"This is the European Union seeking to punish the United Kingdom. As a consequence, Northern Ireland is being used as a plaything for the European Union," he said.

"I can assure you Northern Ireland should be nobody's plaything, we are citizens of the United Kingdom, we were citizens of the European Union and we deserve to be treated with the same respect as everyone else.

Maroš Šefcovic said he wants to meet the Northern Ireland Executive parties before the next Joint Committee

Also appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, European Commission vice president Maroš Šefcovic rejected Edwin Poots' accusation of using Northern Ireland as a "plaything".

Mr Šefcovic said: "We really do our utmost to make sure we demonstrate our total commitment to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and therefore we've been looking for the four years for the best solution to the very sensitive situation in Northern Ireland."

"For us, and not only for us but also for the UK government, the response was very clear that it was the Protocol."

He said: "I think that now, what we should do is to focus on the policies and politics that rather unite than divide us.

"I think we have also to turn the table a little bit in this discussion and look at what the Protocol brings as an opportunity to Northern Ireland."

Mr Šefcovic said he wants to meet the Northern Ireland Executive parties before the next Joint Committee which is expected to take place in the middle of June.

"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.

Meanwhile, the new Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said it was "not good to see the DUP implode" because the people of Northern Ireland "need stability".

He told RTÉ's The Week in Politics: "I'll not take anyone on board just because they are disgruntled with the DUP.

"We are an open, welcoming party but it's not a home for people who just have a different view. You have to share our vision and our values."

Mr Beattie said his party had offered solutions to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

"It damages the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.

"We don't want to see borders north, south, east or west. Can you just scrap the protocol with nothing in place? No you can't but we need to look towards solutions."

The UUP leader said the Stormont Assembly "has to last - there is an onus on the DUP and Sinn Féin to be generous, do a bit of mature politics and carry on until the elections in May next year".

Mr Beattie added: "The last thing we need is for the Executive to collapse and to have more instability in Northern Ireland, particularly as the pandemic has decimated our lives, as it has down in Ireland."