Talks collapse as UK warns it ‘must act’ on Northern Ireland protocol

UK’s Liz Truss says post-Brexit agreement threatens peace and disrupts trade

Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has warned the EU the UK will act if the bloc refuses to show flexibility on the Northern Ireland Protocol. AP Photo
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Britain will have “no choice but to act” if the EU refuses to exercise flexibility on the issues stemming from the Northern Ireland Protocol, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has warned the bloc.

In a call with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic on Thursday, Ms Truss said the Protocol, a key part of the post-Brexit deal signed by London and Brussels, had created “unacceptable disruption” to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Signalling that UK-EU talks on the matter had broken down, Ms Truss said if Brussels failed to address the issue Britain would take matters into its own hands.

The Protocol stipulates that goods arriving at ports in Northern Ireland must undergo checks because there is a chance they will end up in the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.

Unionists in Northern Ireland are opposed to the Protocol because they argue it creates a sea border between the region and the rest of the UK.

“The foreign secretary outlined that the UK's overriding priority is to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland and said that the Northern Ireland Protocol had become the greatest obstacle to forming a Northern Ireland Executive,” a representative of Britain’s foreign office said. “She also noted that the current situation was causing unacceptable disruption to trade and had created a two-tier system where people in Northern Ireland weren’t being treated the same as everyone else in the UK.

“She reminded Vice President Sefcovic of the importance of defending the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and said that the Commission bore a responsibility to show more pragmatism and ensure the Protocol delivered on its original objectives.

“The foreign secretary reiterated that the UK's proposals to fix the Protocol, including green and red channel arrangements, backed up by a bespoke data-sharing system, would ensure the removal of trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland while protecting the EU single market.”

The statement said Ms Truss had outlined how EU proposals would take the UK “backwards” by creating more checks on goods and additional paperwork. Mr Sefcovic confirmed there was “no room to expand the EU negotiating mandate or introduce new proposals to reduce the overall level of trade friction.”

As a result, Ms Truss issued an ultimatum, saying the Conservative-led government would take action if the EU showed no flexibility.

“The foreign secretary noted this with regret and said the situation in Northern Ireland is a matter of internal peace and security for the United Kingdom, and if the EU would not show the requisite flexibility to help solve those issues, then as a responsible government we would have no choice but to act.”

Earlier on Thursday, Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney expressed hope that the UK and the EU could agree a way forward to overcome the issues, but warned Britain against using “threats” in a bid to resolve the dispute.

“We’re not going to do it under the threat of British government’s language and briefing of the media which says if the EU doesn’t give us everything we want, well, then we’re going to legislate ourselves to override international law,” he told RTE Radio.

The UK’s prisons minister Victoria Atkins said the Protocol was creating “political instability” but insisted she believed “the EU will listen to our arguments”.

Asked whether she would support scrapping the Protocol, which Attorney General Suella Braverman is said to have received advice about, Ms Atkins told Sky News: “I haven’t seen the advice and, of course, the attorney will be seeking legal advice on matters of such significance as this.”

“I’m convinced we will be able to find a solution to this because I’m sure that the EU will listen to our arguments, but I think it’s right we review this,” she added.

Updated: May 12, 2022, 3:05 PM