Liz Truss today dismissed the EU’s threat to sue Britain over scrapping Northern Ireland Brexit rules.
The Foreign Secretary said there was ‘no reason’ for the ‘negative’ reaction from Brussels to the UK plans for overhauling the protocol.
In a round of interviews this morning, she insisted negotiations with the bloc had reached a ‘dead end’ as it was not willing to agree fundamental changes.
The UK is moving to end to the EU court’s role in resolving disputes over Northern Ireland, as well as targeting 4,000 new Brussels rules that have been imposed since January last year without consent.
But commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said last night that Brussels is urgently considering legal action, which could come as soon as next week.
He even warned that the entire Brexit deal could be put at risk – raising the prospect of a damaging trade dispute involving tariffs and major border controls.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (right) said there was ‘no reason’ for the ‘negative’ reaction from Maros Sefcovic (left) to the UK plans for overhauling the protocol
Loyalist protests in Belfast against the checks on goods crossing the irish Sea
The Bill, presented to Parliament tonight, aims to sweep away key parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, including a check-free ‘green channel’ for goods from mainland Britain and stripping control from the EU court
How the Northern Ireland row threatens to undo Brexit deal
The row over the Northern Ireland Protocol began almost as soon as the Brexit agreement with the EU came into force.
The two sides had to find a way of avoiding a hard border while maintaining the integrity of the UK, and avoid undermining the integrity of the EU customs union and single market.
The Protocol avoids a hard border between by effectively keeping Ulster inside the EU’s single market.
However, Brussels has been adamant that means checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea from Britain.
Unionists are implacably opposed to the idea, arguing it ‘others’ an integral part of the UK.
The UK began talks seeking to alter the terms of the agreement, despite it having been signed off by the PM just months earlier.
The toughest part of the Protocol have never come into force, due to a series of delays brought in by both camps.
In March last year the UK unilaterally extended the agri-food exemptions, something that triggered the EU to start breach proceedings.
However, despite experts suggesting there is a landing zone available, political tensions have made a deal impossible.
The UK has threatened to trigger Article 16 of the Treaty, which is available to suspend the provisions if they are causing major social upheaval.
However, a command paper previously suggested using legislation instead as a more permanent solution.
The UK insists that the problem lies with the negotiating mandate given to vice-president Maros Sefcovic, which does not allow enough scope to find a settlement.
The Bill is now finally being published, spelling out the arrangements that the UK believes are feasible.
But it will take time to pass the law, and it is not likely to come into force immediately even when on the statute books.
As a result the government has more time – and it hopes more leverage – to hammer out an agreement.
The legislation could make it trickier though as the British demands are now spelled out in black and white, meaning potentially less scope for compromise.
The Biden administration has also taken a dim view, urging continued talks to solve the problem.
One carrot in the process is the chance to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland.
DUP first minister Paul Givan resigned in February in an effort to force movement.
That left the Executive unable to function, due to the way it was set up to share power under the Good Friday Agreement. While ministers remained in post, they were restricted in the actions they could take.
Since 1998, when the governance system was devised as part of Northern Ireland’s historic peace accord, the first minister has always been a Unionist.
That all changed last month, when Sinn Fein became the largest party at Stormont for the first time ever.
However, the DUP has insisted that it will not return until its demands over the Protocol are met.
Ministers have made clear to the DUP that the new legislation will not be implemented unless they agree to resume powersharing first.
Ms Truss said: ‘Our solution doesn’t make the EU any worse off. We continue to protect the single market.’
‘So there is absolutely no reason why the EU should react in a negative way to what we are doing. I’ve been very clear my preference is for a negotiated solution but in the absence of that we simply cannot allow the situation to drift.’
The PM said yesterday that a trade war would be a ‘gross, gross over-reaction’ to changes which are ‘relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things’.
He stressed: ‘All we’re trying to do is simplify things, to actually remove the barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
‘How perverse, how preposterous… to be introducing further restrictions on trade when all we’re trying to do is have some bureaucratic simplifications.’ He spoke as:
The new Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will give ministers powers to override parts of the original Brexit deal, including scrapping EU checks on goods traded between Britain and the province.
Downing Street acknowledged the legislation would allow ministers to break parts of the Brexit deal relating to Ulster, breaching an international treaty with the EU.
But the Government insisted the plan was permitted by international law because ministers have an overriding duty to protect the Good Friday peace agreement in Ulster.
The statement, a summary of legal advice from Attorney General Suella Braverman, cited the ‘doctrine of necessity’ – a recognised principle in international law which allows states to ‘non-perform’ treaty duties if it is the only way to ‘safeguard an essential interest’.
It said the EU’s implementation of the protocol was causing a ‘diversion of trade and serious societal and economic difficulties’, undermining the peace process.
It added that the ‘genuinely exceptional situation’ in Northern Ireland justified immediate intervention.
Both the EU and the White House have warned against taking unilateral action, along with some Tory MPs.
However, the US has said proposed changes to the protocol would not be an impediment to potential America-UK trade talks in Boston later this month.
And the government’s stance was boosted today by an endorsement from unionists – with ministers trying to encourage them to rejoin powersharing.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the UK action was ‘balanced and fair’.
‘The Government is entitled under the protocol to take unilateral action where there has been societal, economic or political harm caused by the protocol,’ he told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.
‘Therefore I think the Government is entirely within its rights and entitled to do this.
‘What we need is a permanent solution here, and that is why I think it is important that the Government is bringing forward this legislation, and I think what the Government has proposed is balanced, it is fair.
‘It enables us to see Northern Ireland’s place within the UK’s internal market restored in line with the commitment the Government gave in New Decade, New Approach over two-and-a-half years ago now.
‘Finally we see the legislation introduced. It is the beginning of the Government honouring that commitment and now we need to take this legislation forward.’
UK ministers said that, after 18 months of inconclusive talks with Brussels, they had no choice but to act.
Ms Truss said she was ‘very clear that we’re acting in line with the law’ and blamed the EU for the failure to reach a negotiated settlement.
Mr Sefcovic declared that Brussels ‘will not re-negotiate the protocol’.
In a thinly veiled threat, he said the move ‘undermines the trust that is necessary’ for the Brexit trade deal to continue.
The PM said yesterday that a trade war would be a ‘gross, gross over-reaction’ to changes which are ‘relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things’