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Liz Truss Confirms Bill To Override The Northern Ireland Protocol Will Go Ahead "In The Coming Weeks"

4 min read

Foreign secretary Liz Truss has confirmed the government's plan to override the Northern Ireland Protocol through legislation, setting up another summer of intense negotiations with the European Union.

Truss said on Tuesday the government would table the legislation "in the coming weeks" and before Westminster breaks up for the summer recess in July.

The foreign secretary said the government wants to change the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was negotiated by Boris Johnson as part of Brexit talks, not scrap it altogether.

The Bill will seek to remove "unnecessary bureaucracy" from goods being sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, Truss told MPs. The government wants to do this by creating a "green lane" for goods staying in Northern Ireland, and a "red lane" for those continuing to the Republic of Ireland and as a result will have EU checks and controls carried out on them.

Truss insisted the government is being forced to take action, despite warnings that it risks inflaming tensions with the EU, as well as trade retaliation that could exacerbate the cost-of-living crisis, because the bloc is not willing to make the necessary changes to the protocol.

"We are clear there is a necessity to act," the foreign secretary said. She told MPs that her counterpart Maros Sefcovic, Vice President of the European Commission, currently does not have the mandate from the EU to change his negotiating position in talks with the UK government.

She said there would be no prospect of a government being formed in Northern Ireland unless the problems with the post-Brexit treaty for trade across the Irish Sea have been dealt with. 

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which came second in Northern Ireland's recent Assembly election, is refusing to enter the Executive with Sinn Fein over their opposition to the treaty.

The staunchly unionist party argues that the barriers to trade the protocol has created between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK has undermined the province's place the Union. 

“The Northern Ireland Protocol does not have the support necessary in one part of the community in Northern Ireland,” said Truss, adding that the Good Friday peace agreement had been put "under strain" as a result.

However, Truss stressed that the UK remains open to talks with Brussels and that its preference remains be reaching an agreement with the EU. "Our preference is to reach a negotiated outcome with the EU and we have worked tirelessly to that end, and we will continue to do so," she said.

The government has decided against changing the protocol by triggering Article 16 of the post-Brexit treaty, though officials insist the option remains on the table going forward.

Once tabled, the legislation will run in parallel to talks with the EU, potentially setting up a summer of high-stakes negotiations between the government and the bloc. 

The deadline for any agreement is late October, as this is when Northern Ireland's parties must agree to form a government before Brandon Lewis, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, will be obliged by law to call another election.

The EU is strongly opposed to the UK taking unilateral action.

Sefcovic said Truss' announcement raised "significant concerns" and that any move to contradict the Brexit deal, which is an "international agreement", would be unacceptable. He warned that Brussels would respond with "all measures at its disposal" if the UK goes ahead with the Bill, hinting at potential trade retaliation.

But he stressed that the EU remained ready to find a negotiated settlement.

"With political will and commitment, practical issues arising from the implementation of the Protocol in Northern Ireland can be resolved. The European Commission stands ready to continue playing its part, as it has from the outset," he said.

Jeffrey Donaldson, who leads the DUP, said the announcement was "welcome" but that he would not take his party into government in Stormont until the UK government takes "decisive action", and called for ministers to press ahead with the legislation in "days and weeks, not months".

However, the plan was criticised strongly by Conservative MP Simon Hoare, who chairs the Northern Ireland Select committee. He challenged Truss' claim that the plan would not breach international law.

"Respect for the rule of law runs deep in our Tory veins and I find it extraordinary that a Tory government needs to be reminded of that," he said.

The Northern Ireland protocol has bedevilled relations between the UK and EU since it was first implemented early last year, with the two sides spending many months trying to agree changes.

The post-Brexit treaty was designed to avoid a contentious hard border on the island of Ireland, and did this by keeping Northern Ireland aligned with the EU's trading rules. However, it created a trade border in the Irish Sea, meaning goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland – particularly food – now undergo checks that they didn't face when the UK was an EU member.

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