The British foreign secretary is set to announce plans on Tuesday to bring forward legislation that rips up parts of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal on Northern Ireland.
Following a Cabinet meeting, Liz Truss intends to make a statement in the House of Commons in a bid to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
The situation with the Northern Ireland Protocol has reached an impasse, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refusing to join a new administration and form a new executive in Stormont unless its concerns over the agreement are addressed.
A majority of members of Stormont’s newly elected Assembly represent parties that support retaining the protocol, with many arguing that the arrangement offers the region protection from some of the negative economic consequences of Brexit.
They also point to the unfettered access Northern Ireland traders have to the EU single market as a key benefit of the protocol.
But the move to rewrite parts of the deal could risk a trade war with the European Union.
A Foreign Office source said “this isn’t about picking a fight with the EU”, saying that Ms Truss’s priority is to uphold the Good Friday Agreement.
“The peace process and acting in the interests of Northern Ireland is what motivates her,” the source said.
The PA news agency reported that Ms Truss’s ambition is to lay the legislation in Parliament within a couple of weeks, and certainly before the summer.
But the overwhelming preference is thought to remain a negotiated solution.
The Global Britain (Strategy) Committee, which consider matters relating to the UK’s trade priorities, will meet first on Tuesday, followed by the full Cabinet, before Ms Truss delivers her statement to the Commons.
On Monday evening, the foreign secretary held calls with Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic.
In both, Ms Truss said she underlined the importance of upholding the Good Friday Agreement and re-establishing the Northern Ireland Executive.
Mr Sefcovic later said engaging with “flexibilities” offered by the EU would be preferable to taking unilateral action on the protocol.
“With political will, practical issues arising from the implementation of the protocol in Northern Ireland can be resolved,” he tweeted.
“Engaging with us on the flexibilities we offer would be a better course of action than a unilateral one. We’re ready to play our part, as from the outset.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson travelled to Belfast on Monday to meet leaders of the Stormont parties in an attempt to secure progress.
He also used the trip to issue a warning to Brussels that the UK is prepared to unilaterally rewrite the terms of the Brexit deal.
Mr Johnson described that plan as an “insurance” policy if a fresh deal could not be reached with the EU.
The threat of unilateral action has already gone down badly in European capitals, with EU leaders urging the UK government to fully participate in talks.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin on Monday said that the only way to resolve the row was “substantive talks” between the UK and the EU.