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Liz Truss warns EU she may have ‘no choice’ but to act on NI Protocol


Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Credit: Victoria Jones/PA


Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

The Northern Ireland Protocol has become a “real problem” and must be “fixed” to ensure it can agree a new power-sharing administration, the Prime Minister has said.

The UK and the EU have come to fresh blows over the Brexit treaty after reports emerged that the Foreign Secretary is drawing up emergency legislation to suspend elements of the protocol.

Boris Johnson, who negotiated the protocol when taking Britain out of the EU, would not be drawn on whether the wording of the divorce pact needed to be changed when questioned yesterday.

He argued that without changes to the treaty, which is designed to prevent a hard border in Ireland, a new Executive could not be formed as per the rules set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

With the DUP refusing to re-enter government until their issues with the protocol are resolved, the impasse has led to concerns in Westminster that the protocol could spark violence.

The Prime Minister said that the “institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement aren’t functioning” and that political governance in Northern Ireland has “collapsed”.

He said: “The people of Northern Ireland need leadership, they need a regional, a provincial government... they haven’t got that. That’s a real problem.

What exactly is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

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“And the reason they don’t have that is because there’s one community in Northern Ireland that won’t accept the way the protocol works at present — we’ve got to fix that.”

The row came as months of tensions over the working of the protocol threatened to boil over.

Ministers have repeatedly warned that they could unilaterally suspend the arrangements unless the EU agrees to major changes to reduce the impact.

But Brussels has raised the possibility of suspending the entire Brexit deal if the threat is carried out, in a move that would spark an all-out trade war and potentially exacerbate the cost-of-living crisis.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss used a phone call with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic yesterday to warn that if the bloc does not show “flexibility” over the trading arrangements, then the UK would have “no choice but to act” alone, the Foreign Office said.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis later drove that message home during a visit to Brussels, giving a speech in which he pressed for “significant changes”.

He said: “We will continue to talk with the EU, but we won’t let that stand in the way of protecting peace and political stability in Northern Ireland.

“As both the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have made clear, we will take action to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement if solutions cannot be found.”

According to The Times, attorney general Suella Braverman has issued legal advice that the UK could act because the EU’s implementation of the agreement was “disproportionate and unreasonable”.

Ministers have said they could trigger Article 16 of the protocol — the power allowing either side to suspend some of the arrangements — while reports have suggested Ms Truss is readying a domestic law designed to suspend parts of the terms.

Mr Sefcovic warned his counterparts in London that the EU could not “renegotiate” a form of Brexit that Britain signed up to.

He said: “The EU cannot solve all the problems created by Brexit and the type of Brexit that the UK chose.

“That is the reason why the EU’s position has been consistent: we will not renegotiate the protocol, and the EU is united in this position.

“Unilateral action, effectively disapplying the protocol, is not a solution for the way forward.”

He said the commission “stands ready” to carry on working for a joint solution to the frictions being caused and urged the UK “to do the same”.

The Irish Minister for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said the suggestion that EU inflexibility on the protocol is fuelling unrest in the region is “completely and utterly incorrect”.

Mr Byrne told RTE radio he was confident that the UK would pull back from threats to scrap parts of the post-Brexit arrangements.

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