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EU will 'respond with all measures at its disposal' if UK brings in law to change Protocol

Liz Truss addressed the House of Commons this afternoon.

Liz Truss speaking today.
Liz Truss speaking today.

Updated May 17th 2022, 2:54 PM

THE EU HAS said it “will need to respond with all measures at its disposal” if Britain goes ahead with  unilateral changes to the part of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland.

The announcement, made by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, “raises significant concerns,” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said in a statement.

“The (Northern Ireland) Protocol is an international agreement signed by the EU and the UK. Unilateral actions contradicting an international agreement are not acceptable,” he said.

This afternoon, Liz Truss revealed plans to introduce legislation to alter the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Truss made the announcement before MPs at the House of Commons just after 12.30pm.

Addressing parliament, she said: “I am announcing our intention to introduce legislation to make changes to the Protocol.”

Truss said that a deal with the EU is still on the table and a more favourable outcome than introducing the new legislation. 

The Foreign Secretary said that she will invite EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic to talks over the Protocol. 

Responding this afternoon, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the British move was a “damaging” one.

“I deeply regret the decision of the British government to introduce legislation in the coming weeks that will unilaterally dis-apply elements of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

“Such unilateral action in respect of an internationally binding agreement is damaging to trust and will serve only to make it more challenging to find solutions to the genuine concerns that people in Northern Ireland have about how the Protocol is being implemented,” he said.

In the House of Commons this afternoon, Truss said the Good Friday Agreement is “under strain”, adding: “Regrettably, the Northern Ireland Executive has not been fully functioning since early February.

“This is because the Northern Ireland Protocol does not have the support necessary in one part of the community in Northern Ireland. I would also note that all of Northern Ireland’s political parties agree on the need for changes to the Protocol.

“This is not about scrapping the Protocol.”

Truss said the practical problems include producers facing “onerous” restrictions due to sanitary and phytosanitary restrictions, adding in the Commons: “These practical problems have contributed to the sense that the east-west relationship has been undermined.

“Without resolving these and other issues we will not be able to re-establish the executive and preserve the hard-won progress sustained by the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement. We need to restore the balance in the agreement.”

Truss said the UK’s preference is to “reach a negotiated outcome” with the EU.

She added that the proposed bill “is consistent with our obligations in international law”.

She told the Commons: “To respond to the very grave and serious situation in Northern Ireland, we are clear there is a necessity to act to ensure the institutions can be restored as soon as possible.

The Government is clear that proceeding with the bill is consistent with our obligations in international law and in support of our prior obligations in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.

“Before any changes are made, we will consult businesses and people in Northern Ireland.”

Truss has claimed the Bill will put in place the “necessary measures to lessen the burden on east-west trade” and will “ensure the people of Northern Ireland are able to access the same benefits as the people of Great Britain”.

She went on: “The Bill will ensure that goods moving and staying within the UK are freed of unnecessary bureaucracy through our new green channel. This respects Northern Ireland’s place in the UK in its customs territory and protects the UK internal market.

“At the same time, it ensures that goods destined for the EU undergo the full checks and controls applied under EU law. This will be underpinned by data-sharing arrangements that I have already set out.

“It will allow both east-west trade and the EU single market to be protected whilst removing customs paperwork for goods remaining in the United Kingdom.

“The Bill will remove regulatory barriers to goods made to UK standards being sold in Northern Ireland. Businesses will be able to choose between meeting UK or EU standards in a new dual regulatory regime.”

The row over the protocol has affected the formation of a new executive in Stormont, as the Democratic Unionist Party has refused to join a new administration unless its concerns over the arrangements are addressed.

A majority of Stormont MLAs represent parties that support the protocol. 

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screenshot-2022-05-16-5-38-51-pm-390x285 Protesters outside Hillsborough Castle yesterday. Source: PA

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Future UK trade deals could be damaged by any threats to interfere with Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade arrangements, the British Labour Party has said.

Its shadow Foreign Office minister Stephen Doughty said: “Britain should be a country that keeps its word.

“The rest of the world is looking at us and wondering if we are a country that they want to do business with.

When we seek to negotiate new deals abroad, does the Government want to make other countries question whether we will keep our end of the bargain?

“There are wide-ranging and damaging repercussions undermining our ability to hold others to account for their own commitments, when we should, for example, be pulling together in support of Ukraine, not fuelling divisions with our European allies.”

He later asked: “Will they set out clearly to the House why this doesn’t break international law?”

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson told the Commons: “The statement today is a welcome if overdue step that is a significant move towards addressing the problems created by the protocol and getting power-sharing based upon a cross-community consensus up and running again.

“Therefore, we hope to see progress on a bill in order to deal with these matters in days and weeks, not months. As the legislation progresses we will take a graduated and cautious approach.

“We want to see the Irish Sea border removed and the Government honouring its commitment in the New Decade, New Approach agreement to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market. The statement today indicates this will be covered in the legislation.”

He reiterated that he wants to see the political institutions “possibly functioning as soon as possible”, but said “to restore unionist confidence decisive action is now needed in the form of legislation to repair the harm done by the protocol”.

He called for “sensible arrangements” and said: “The words today are a good start. But the Foreign Secretary will know that it is actions that speak louder than words. I welcome her commitment to such decisive action in this statement.”

- Additional reporting PA and Garreth MacNamee

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