We need to find ‘sweet spot’ in protocol talks adds Foreign Secretary but speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, insists deal is ‘doable’
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, she said she was hopeful that the EU and UK would find a “sweet spot” in their negotiations — led by Ms Truss herself and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic — which would resolve problems with the protocol while still protecting the EU single market.
The DUP has said it will act to halt post-Brexit procedures at Northern Ireland ports, where checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain are carried out by staff at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. The department is led by DUP Minister Edwin Poots.
Ms Truss, who was visiting Northern Ireland to learn more about the effects of the protocol, said it was “a matter for the NI Executive” to resolve, rather than one for the UK to intervene on if the DUP acts to halt checks.
“What I would say is we are working flat out to sort out the issues with the protocol. We’ve having constructive discussions with the EU.
“What I’m here to do in Northern Ireland is to really hear from the communities, the businesses, to understand the issues on the ground and make sure the negotiations are as productive as possible.
“Everybody knows the protocol is not working. It is creating issues with the flow of trade from GB to Northern Ireland and we need to sort that out.
“My number one priority is to make sure that we protect peace in Northern Ireland, that we protect the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.
“The agreement was on the basis of north south relationships and east west relationships and both of those elements have to be respected and that is why we need to deal with the issues in the protocol.”
And she added: “I want to work with all parties in Northern Ireland. I believe there is a deal to be done with the EU.
"Discussions so far have been constructive. I was in Brussels on Monday meeting Maros Sefcovic,
"I’m seeing him again next Thursday, our officials are in intensive talks about resolving these issues and what I want to do is make sure we get positive momentum and we move forward. It’s all of our responsibilities to protect the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland and to make it work.”
During her visit she met members of the Jewish community, whose supply of kosher foods from Great Britain has been affected by the protocol’s rules.
Under the protocol, Northern Ireland is treated as remaining inside the EU single market for goods, in order to avoid a hard border on the island as a result of Brexit.
But that has introduced costs and additional checks and affected the availability of some foods here.
Ms Truss said the protocol had created problems with sourcing foods for supermarkets as well as becoming an identity issue.
She said that on a visit to Green’s Food Fare in Lisburn, she had heard about their difficulties sourcing pies and ready meals from Great Britain.
“This is important and an important issue economically and it’s also an important issue from the point of view of identity.
"We’re all part of the UK, we’re all part of the same market, the same business relationships, the same community, and that is why it’s important that we solve this problem.”
She said it was “great” if businesses based here could step into the supply gap “but people should have the choice and the choice from businesses in their own country”.
"It does undermine the constitutional settlement if those goods aren’t able to readily flow.”
She said she hoped there would be “significant progress” on a deal by February 21 but that it was slow work.
“We are spending time going through all of the details about how to make things work better. That takes time.
"It’s complex, I visited the port today, I’ve seen the systems and the different paperwork being used. This is not easy stuff.
"So it does take time for our teams to share information, to work it out how to do this better.
“I’m very clear this needs to be a shared solution between the UK and EU. We want to protect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the UK, we want the free flow of goods and the EU wants to protect the single market. I understand that that is their aspiration, we need to find the sweet spot that manages to achieve both of those things.
“I think that is doable but it does take intense discussions.”
She said there was no benefit to considering whether the protocol should have been agreed to at the time. “We now have experience of the protocol having been in place and we should use that experience and the issues that we have seen as a result of the protocol to inform making it better and improving it.”