Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is to take over responsibility for the UK's relationship with the EU following Brexit minister Lord Frost's resignation, Downing Street has confirmed.
As a result Ms Truss will take over responsibility for renegotiating the NI Protocol with the EU.
A statement from 10 Downing Street has declared that Ms Truss “will take over Ministerial responsibility for the UK’s relationship with the European Union with immediate effect”.
The letter adds: “She will become the co-chair of the Partnership Council and the Joint Committee, and will lead the ongoing negotiations to resolve the problems arising from the current operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
"Chris Heaton-Harris will become Minister of State for Europe and will deputise for the Foreign Secretary as necessary on EU Exit and the Protocol.”
The Sun recently reported suggestions that Ms Truss – alongside Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak – could be a contender for Boris Johnson’s role as Prime Minister, referring to her as “a young Margaret Thatcher”.
She joined parliament in 2010, but was initially against Brexit and actively campaigned for Remain during the 2016 referendum.
Ms Truss has previously called for “border controls and paperwork” to be scrapped on Irish Sea trade.
She will take over Lord Frost’s duties immediately, after he confirmed his departure from Mr Johnson’s Cabinet on Saturday night, which was reportedly due to the government’s ‘political direction’.
Confirmed: Liz Truss takes control of Northern Ireland Protocol negotiations and EU relations pic.twitter.com/YwtgZUdjXN— Adam Payne (@adampayne26) December 19, 2021
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson deemed the resignation as a “bad sign for the Prime Minister’s commitment to removing the Irish Sea border”.
In a statement on Saturday evening, Mr Donaldson said: “This government is distracted by internal strife, and Lord Frost was being frustrated on a number of fronts.
“We wish David well. We enjoyed a strong relationship with him and his team but this raises more serious questions for the Prime Minister and his approach to the NI Protocol.
"Whether on Northern Ireland’s access to medicines, our economic prosperity and trade with the rest of the United Kingdom or on the growing divergence between NI and GB, this Protocol has been a deeply damaging deal for the people we represent,” the DUP leader continued.
UUP leader Doug Beattie welcomed Ms Truss, stating that he will be “seeking an urgent meeting” with her and Chris Heaton-Harris.
"Major problems remain in regards to the Northern Ireland Protocol as we still await the detail of proposals to deal with medicines and other areas. Northern Ireland and its people need solutions which provide stability and address issues for the long term,” added the Upper Bann MLA.
“There is a need to focus on providing solutions to already well-defined issues which we believe are achievable at pace.
“Momentum is key, therefore we need a smooth transition from Lord Frost to Liz Truss MP with defined timelines to ensure these negotiations don’t drag on for months creating societal instability. We need the EU to engage with the Foreign Secretary and her officials in a genuine and meaningful way with pragmatism driving their exchanges.”
I take note of the appointment of @trussliz as co-chair of the 🇪🇺🇬🇧 Joint Committee and Partnership Council. My team and I will continue to cooperate with the UK in the same constructive spirit on all important tasks ahead, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.— Maroš Šefčovič🇪🇺 (@MarosSefcovic) December 19, 2021
Vice-President of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic tweeted on Sunday, posting: “My team and I will continue to cooperate with the UK in the same constructive spirit on all important tasks ahead, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.”
It is reported that Lord Frost handed his resignation in a week ago, but was persuaded by Mr Johnson to stay in his post until January.
However, the life peer was “disappointed” that this plan had “become public” on Saturday evening, and then wrote another letter to the Prime Minister on the same night, stating that he is to “step down with immediate effect”.
NI Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said he is “sorry” to see Lord Frost leave the government, but looks forward “to continuing to work closely with Liz Truss and her team to secure the meaningful change we urgently need to see to the Northern Ireland Protocol for the benefit of all in Northern Ireland”.