Liz Truss willing to override Brexit deal if Northern Ireland talks fail

Foreign Secretary issues warning to EU before further talks

Liz Truss took on the Brexit negotiation role from David Frost after his resignation last month. AP
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The UK’s foreign minister has said she is willing to trigger the emergency break clause in its post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

In comments described as unhelpful by the bloc, Liz Truss said London would need to see “greater movement” from Brussels to reach a deal in the long-running talks.

Ms Truss took on the Brexit negotiating brief after David Frost’s resignation last month.

She will hold talks with her EU counterpart, Maros Sefcovic, at her English country home next week.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, she said that checks on goods going to Northern Ireland were causing unnecessary bureaucracy and damaging the UK’s integrity.

She said London sought a “pragmatic compromise”, but would use a provision known as Article 16 if the EU asked for checks it deemed excessive.

Article 16 allows either side to override the deal with unilateral “safeguard measures”. Mr Frost had threatened to trigger it before he resigned.

“I want a negotiated solution but if we have to use legitimate provisions including Article 16, I am willing to do that,” Ms Truss said.

“This safeguard clause was explicitly designed – and agreed to by all sides – to ease acute problems because of the sensitivity of the issues at play.”

The UK agreed under the protocol to inspect goods crossing from mainland Britain into Northern Ireland, so there is no need to check them again when they reach the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.

This prevents politically sensitive checks at the Irish border that could imperil the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

But the UK has accused Brussels of demanding excessive checks.

Ms Truss cited examples of Jewish people struggling to find kosher food in Northern Ireland and families being unable to transport pets.

The protocol has riled many of Northern Ireland’s unionists.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, welcomed Ms Truss’s comments.

“She is right that unionists do not consent to the protocol,” he said on Sunday.

Joao Vale de Almeida, the EU’s ambassador to the UK, said Britain’s continued threats to invoke Article 16 were unhelpful.

“We’ve heard this before from the government so we’re not too surprised. We’re not too impressed,” he told Sky News.

The ambassador called for a “new momentum” in the talks and said they were taking too long.

“I think what we should focus on – at least that’s where we are focused on – is trying to find solutions for difficulties in the implementation of the protocol,” he said.

The EU was criticised last January after briefly invoking Article 16 to control vaccine exports outside the bloc. It later reversed this move.

Updated: January 09, 2022, 3:07 PM