Liz Truss Defends Northern Ireland Protocol Bill In The “Absence” Of EU Negotiations
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has defended the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill as MPs prepare to vote on scrapping parts of the Brexit trade agreement, but said negotiation with the EU would be preferred.
The bill has triggered a cross-party row as it proposes reversing parts of the treaty agreed with the EU in the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
Concerns were raised at the top of government over the legality of the bill, and the EU has launched legal action against it, prompting speculation that there could be a trade war between the UK and EU.
Liz Truss opened a debate on the bill in the House of Commons on Monday, describing it as a “legal and necessary” action to preserve peace and political stability in Northern Ireland.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol is undermining the functioning of the agreement and power-sharing, creating fractures between East and West," she said.
“This bill will address these political challenges and fix the practical problems this treaty has created. It is necessary because the growing issues in Northern Ireland are baked into the Protocol itself.”
But Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy accused the government of breaking international law.
"This bill will make a resolution more difficult," he told MPs. "By breaking its obligations, the government dissolves that little trust that remains.
“By taking that aggressive action we make it harder for those on the other side of the table to compromise and on that basis alone, this bill should be rejected.”
The EU has repeatedly outlined its opposition to the bill. Ahead of this afternoon's debate, after which MPs will vote on this stage of the bill, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney explicitly dismissed its proposal to override the Protocol.
“It will damage the Good Friday Agreement, not protect it," he tweeted.
“It’s a breach of international law and will damage the UK’s reputation. It’s against business & majority opinion in NI.
“It’s unnecessary UK unilateral action when partnership & compromise is on offer from the EU. This Bill is no fix.”
Truss insisted the government’s preference would be a negotiated solution and said that although there are provisions in the Protocol for amendments, the EU has “ruled out” making any changes.
“We have looked at all the alternative solutions,” she said. “The only solution which is effective is this Bill, in the absence of the EU being willing to negotiate.”
Truss also emphasised the importance of the bill in restoring local government to Northern Ireland, after the Democratic Unionist Party blocked the election of a new speaker in Stormont to send a “clear message” on their opposition to the Protocol.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson shared a report this morning outlining the harm the party believes the Protocol imposes on businesses, consumers and political stability in Northern Ireland and to the Union.
In anticipation of the bill’s second reading, a number of Tory ministers have expressed their support.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News this morning: “We are not breaking an agreement, we are bringing clarity to how it should be interpreted."
The influential European Research Group of Conservative MPs also agreed to approve the bill, a move which may prove essential for its passage, with the likelihood of opposition from some rebel Tory MPs.
Labour has said the party will not vote in its favour. Explaining Labour’s position on the bill, Peter Kyle, Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland told GB News: “We don’t have to put a wrecking ball through the deal in order to deliver for the British and NI economies.
“The rest of the world are looking on aghast at what is happening and the way Britain is behaving, and they are seeing an untrustworthy country.”
Addressing reporters at the G7 summit today, Boris Johnson said that if the NI Protocol Bill is passed, he would hope to make "very fast" progress to put it in place.
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