UK will not shy away from taking action on Northern Ireland Protocol, says Truss

The EU has made it clear that renegotiation of the protocol ‘is not an option’

Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. AP
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British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is pushing for the Northern Ireland Protocol to be reformed, saying the UK will not “shy away” from taking action.

Ms Truss has been in negotiations with the EU for months and says that some of the ideas put forward during discussions on the post-Brexit treaty would “take us backwards”.

She also argued against introducing “more checks, paperwork and disruption”.

She is expected to tell the EU that the dispute over Northern Ireland cannot drag on, despite facing warnings not to tear up the post-Brexit agreement on the region.

Striking a deal that preserved the peace in Northern Ireland, protected the EU's single market and avoided new borders on the island of Ireland and with Britain was always the biggest challenge for London as it embarked on its departure from the European Union.

It agreed on a protocol that effectively created a customs border in the sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, but Westminster now says the required bureaucracy is intolerable.

The government has for months been threatening to rip up the protocol ― potentially threatening a trade war with Europe at a time of soaring inflation ― causing alarm bells across Europe and in Washington.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said on Wednesday that “no option is off the table” but insisted Britain will continue to negotiate to resolve differences over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which came second in last week’s Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that it would not nominate a deputy first minister to form an executive until “decisive action is taken on the protocol”.

European leaders have cautioned the government against taking unilateral action, as ministers consider whether to introduce legislation overriding parts of the deal.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that “no-one should unilaterally cancel, break or in any way attack the settlement”.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said on Tuesday that the protocol is an international agreement and its “renegotiation is not an option”. He said the EU has worked tirelessly to propose solutions.

Ms Truss, is expected on Thursday in a call to Mr Sefcovic to reiterate the risk to the Good Friday Agreement and to say that the situation cannot drag on.

Under EU proposals suggested in October, trading arrangements could deteriorate and everyday items could disappear from shop shelves in Northern Ireland, said the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

“The current EU proposals fail to properly address the real issues affecting Northern Ireland,” Ms Truss said.

“Prices have risen, trade is being badly disrupted, and the people of Northern Ireland are subject to different laws and taxes than those over the Irish Sea, which has left them without an executive and poses a threat to peace and stability.

“Our preference has always been for a negotiated solution but we will not shy away from taking action to stabilise the situation in Northern Ireland if solutions cannot be found.”

Officials working for Ms Truss are drawing up draft legislation to unilaterally remove the need for checks on all goods being sent from Britain for use in Northern Ireland.

The PA news agency was told that Ms Truss is poised to take further action in the coming weeks if negotiations with the EU continue to stall.

The proposed law would allow businesses in Northern Ireland to disregard EU rules and regulations and remove the power of the European Court of Justice to rule on issues relating to the region.

Crucially, it would in parts override the protocol agreed by Mr Johnson in 2019 and mean the UK had breached its obligations under the Brexit agreement.

But it was argued the protocol will not be completely overridden, with measures instead being considered to ease the issues on the ground in Northern Ireland.

To highlight the effect full implementation of the protocol could have, foreign office officials said that if grace periods in the “sausage wars” were not in place then Lincolnshire sausages and other chilled meats from Britain would need a veterinary certificate to enter Northern Ireland.

The department quoted figures suggesting that at least 200 retailers in Britain have stopped delivering to customers in Northern Ireland amid increased trade friction.

The foreign office said full protocol controls would also provide authorities the power to search people’s bags for food, such as ham sandwiches, on departure from the ferry to Northern Ireland.

Pet owners would need to pay up to £280 ($345) for certificates and vaccinations for their pets to go on holiday in the UK, the department said.

The UK government has lamented that some VAT cuts cannot be applied to Northern Ireland because the protocol means EU rates for goods still apply there.

The March spring statement measure announced by British Chancellor Rishi Sunak to expand VAT relief for energy-saving material cannot be applied in Northern Ireland, officials said.

The foreign office on Tuesday said Mr Sefcovic had “made clear” in a call to Ms Truss last week that the EU “did not have, and in his view would never have, a mandate to renegotiate the protocol” or to go beyond existing proposals.

After Northern Ireland's historic election result at the weekend, Sinn Fein is now the largest party at Stormont and entitled to nominate the first nationalist or republican first minister.

The DUP must nominate a deputy first minister to serve alongside in the joint office.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill had said that the protocol is “here to stay” and called on the DUP to join a new executive at Stormont.

Updated: May 11, 2022, 10:50 AM