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Liz Truss to introduce legislation ‘in the coming weeks' on Northern Ireland Protocol – DUP welcome move as ‘significant’

  • Sir Jeffrey Donaldson doesn’t confirm if party will return to Stormont, says they will take ‘graduated and cautious approach’
  • SDLP’s Colum Eastwood brands statement ‘absolutely astonishing’
  • EU says move raises ‘significant concerns’

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has confirmed she intends to introduce legislation “in the coming weeks” to make changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

In a statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday, Ms Truss said the bill would be introduced alongside “parallel” further talks with the European Union.

However, Ms Truss specifically said the government is not seeking to scrap the protocol.

In response to the statement, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson did not confirm if his party would return to Stormont following the intervention by Ms Truss and said the party wanted to see progress in “days and weeks” and “not months”.

Meanwhile, the European Union Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said any move to unilaterally override parts of the protocol raises “significant concerns”.

“The government is clear that proceeding with the bill is consistent with our obligations in international law,” Ms Truss said.

“Before any changes are made, we will consult businesses and people in Northern Ireland. This is not about scrapping the protocol. Our aim is to deliver on the protocol’s objectives.”

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Northern Ireland is currently without a power-sharing government despite the recent election, with the DUP having refused to nominate a Speaker of the Assembly until the issues of the protocol have been resolved.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has previously said that publishing the proposed bill would in itself not be enough for the party to form an Executive and that his party would need to wait on the provisions advancing first.

Responding in the chamber, Mr Donaldson said he “welcomed” the move by the government and described it as a “significant move towards addressing the problems created by the protocol”.

"We hope to see progress on a bill in order to deal with these matters in days and weeks not months and as the legislation progresses we will take a graduated and cautious approach,” he said.

“To restore unionist confidence decisive action is now needed in the form of legislation. The words today are a good start, but the Foreign Secretary will know it is actions that speak louder than words.”

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill meanwhile warned earlier that any move to unilaterally override parts of the protocol would put Northern Ireland in a “very dangerous place” due to potential retaliation from the EU.

In response to the statement her party president Mary Lou McDonald tweeted: “The British government announces its intention to legislate to break the law. The stuff of a Rogue State. Meanwhile government and progress blocked in the North of Ireland.”

Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry claimed the majority of MLAs, businesses and citizens in Northern Ireland wanted to see solutions found in a “pragmatic way through building trust and partnership with the EU” and not through “unilateral action”.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said there needs to be “cool heads, not knee-jerk reactions”.

"The statement from Liz Truss today is a step towards fixing the protocol in a pragmatic way. I regret that we have got to this point, but this circular conversation cannot continue without conclusion,” he added.

“What is clear to me is that the EU needs to change its mandate. I believe that Maros Sefcovic understands and accepts the landing zone, but I sense the hurdles are other member states.

"There are clear problems that are in need of solutions, rather than sanctimony which does not help the people on Northern Ireland one jot.”

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood blasted Ms Truss’ statement as “absolutely astonishing”.

“She is going to go against the majority of citizens in Northern Ireland who support the protocol by ripping up an international agreement,” he said.

"How can any international partner ever trust this government again?”

TUV leader Jim Allister claimed the statement by Ms Truss left Northern Ireland “no further forward than when the Government published its paper last summer”.

"We have a mere promise to act, no actual substance. With Westminster going into its summer recess shortly anything of substance will be put on the long finger and all the while the Protocol will continue to erode our place within the UK,” he added.

In her statement to the House of Commons, Ms Truss argued the UK Government were concerned over upholding the Good Friday Agreement “in all its dimensions”.

She described the agreement as currently being “under strain” and also claimed the government has set out “comprehensive and reasonable” solutions to the EU.

"All three strands must function successfully. It commands the support of parties across this house. We will continue to work with all communities in Northern Ireland to protect it. As a government we want to see a first and deputy first minister in place,” she added.

"This is because the Northern Ireland Protocol does not have the support necessary in one community. We need to restore the balance in the agreement.

"Our preference is to reach a negotiated outcome with the EU and we have worked tirelessly to that end and will continue to do so.

"The UK has proposed what we believe to be a comprehensive and reasonable solution to deliver on the objectives of the protocol. This includes a trusted trader scheme.

"Giving them [EU] confidence that goods intended for Northern Ireland are not entering the EU single market. Our proposed solution would meet both our and the EU’s original objectives for the protocol.

"The challenge is this solution requires a change in the protocol itself, as its current drafting prevents it being implemented, but the EU’s mandate does not allow the protocol to be changed.

"That is why their current proposals are not able to address the fundamental concerns.”

Following the statement from Ms Truss, a release was issued by Mr Sefcovic in which he said if the UK “move ahead with a bill disapplying constitutive elements of the protocol” the EU will act to “respond with all measures at its disposal”.

"Our overarching objective is to find joint solutions within the framework of the Protocol. That is the way to ensure legal certainty and predictability for people and businesses in Northern Ireland,” the statement added.

“With political will and commitment, practical issues arising from the implementation of the Protocol in Northern Ireland can be resolved.”

Responding to the Foreign Secretary’s statement, a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group said: “The Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group note the proposals announced today and will take time to study the detail.

"While we are frustrated with the ongoing failure to resolve the outstanding issues, it is our shared view that anything other than a negotiated outcome is sub-optimal,” they added.

The Retail NI group encouraged the UK and EU to “continue the negotiations with a new sense of urgency”.

“The local business community needs certainty and stability and not ongoing disputes on the Protocol,” said chief executive Glyn Roberts.

“The election of NI Assembly Speaker and establishment of the Executive needs to happen immediately. It is unacceptable that we have no effective Government during this cost of living and doing business crisis.”

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