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Northern Ireland Secretary Says Legislation To Overhaul Protocol “Was Never On The Cards” This Week

Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis played down suggestions legislation on the Northern Ireland protocol would be tabled this week (Alamy)

3 min read

The Northern Ireland Secretary has dismissed suggestions the UK planned to overhaul its the post-Brexit trade agreement with the EU this week, despite Boris Johnson and other Cabinet ministers indicating this could be the case.

Brandon Lewis said introducing legislation this week to unilaterally overrule parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol was “never on the cards”.

There are now suggestions the government’s plans to act on the protocol may be delayed until the summer amid fears of a trade war with Brussels.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss was expected to announce the tabling of a new bill in the Commons today to alter the protocol, but instead she will simply explain to MPs the UK government's position on what next steps to take on tackling the issues.

“We're still debating the Queen's Speech and won't finish debating the Queen's Speech and voting on that until later this week, later tomorrow, so in that sense it was never on the cards,” Lewis told Sky News.

"But what we have always said is that we will not take anything off the table.

"We will do what we need to do to ensure that products can move to Northern Ireland in the way that they should be able to move to Northern Ireland from Great Britain as part of the United Kingdom internal market, something the protocol itself says it will respect but at the moment is not working properly.”

The senior minister said the UK would like to make changes to the Northern Ireland protocol by agreement with the EU but “we reserve the right to do what we need to do” for the people of Northern Ireland, hinting unilateral action may still be taken.

"We've always said that we take nothing off the table”, he told BBC Breakfast.

"If we do need to legislate, we won't shy away from doing that."

Lewis refused to confirm whether the government's position had changed on tabling legislation today following the Prime Minister's visit to Northern Ireland to discuss the protocol with local leaders. 

"We wait and see what the Foreign Secretary says later on this afternoon," he added. 

"I think it is quite right that the Foreign Secretary sets that out to Parliament first – that's the right approach, after Cabinet has made decisions this morning."

Last night Truss held calls with Ireland's foreign minister, Simon Coveney, and European Commission vice-president, Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s chief negotiator.

She said she underlined the importance of upholding the Good Friday Agreement and re-establishing the Northern Ireland Executive.

Following the meeting, Sefcovic tweeted: "With political will, practical issues arising from the implementation of the protocol in Northern Ireland can be resolved.

"Engaging with us on the flexibilities we offer would be a better course of action than a unilateral one. We're ready to play our part, as from the outset."

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