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Liz Truss warns EU she is willing to trigger Article 16

The DUP has welcomed comments by Truss, while the SDLP leader has said that the move would “only make things worse”.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Jan 2022

UK FOREIGN SECRETARY Liz Truss has warned she is prepared to unilaterally override parts of the post-Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland if the negotiations she is newly leading fail.

Truss said she will suggest “constructive proposals” to her EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic this week during their first face-to-face talks.

But she said she is “willing” to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which would suspend parts of the treaty designed to prevent a hard border in Ireland if a deal cannot be struck.

Truss was handed responsibility for the negotiations after David Frost resigned as Brexit minister last month.

She is hosting Sefcovic, a European Commission vice-president, at the Chevening country retreat afforded to the UK Foreign Secretary when he visits on Thursday.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, she said it is her “absolute priority” to resolve the “unintended consequences” created by the protocol to maintain peace in Northern Ireland.

“When I see Maros Sefcovic this week for our first face-to-face talks, I’ll be putting forward our constructive proposals to resolve the situation.”

The current issues are “myriad and manifest”, she argued, citing issues such as bureaucracy on sending parcels between Northern Ireland and Britain and problems procuring kosher food.

“I am prepared to work night and day to negotiate a solution,” Truss continued.

“But let me be clear, I will not sign up to anything which sees the people of Northern Ireland unable to benefit from the same decisions on taxation and spending as the rest of the UK, or which still sees goods moving within our own country being subject to checks.

“My priority is to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland. I want a negotiated solution but if we have to use legitimate provisions including Article 16, I am willing to do that.”

Welcomed by DUP

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed the pledge by Truss to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol if a deal cannot be reached with the EU.

It comes after Donaldson reiterated his threat to withdraw his ministers from the Stormont Executive if progress is not made on the protocol.

However, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood condemned threats to invoke Article 16 as being “as tired as the DUP and Sinn Fein threats to collapse Stormont”.

“It solves nothing, it helps nobody, it will only make things worse,” he said.

Donaldson is due to meet Truss this week, and welcomed her latest statement.

“She is right that unionists do not consent to the protocol and we need the Government to follow through on their commitment to safeguard the Union and protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK Internal Market,” he tweeted.

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie also welcomed Truss’s latest comments as a “way forward in dealing with trade issues with the EU”.

“It is perfectly reasonable that goods from Great Britain which are destined to stay in Northern Ireland should not be subject to checks, and those goods destined for the EU market can be checked at our ports. We have already recommended legislation to make this workable as far back as 2019,” he said.

“It would go a long way to easing a difficult situation and should form the basis for constructive talks with Maros Sefcovic this coming week.

“Multiple engagements with businesses and business representative bodies see this as a pragmatic and sensible solution. Common sense is needed to de-escalate this issue.”

However, he was critical of Sir Jeffrey’s threats to withdraw his ministers from the Executive.

“Further engagement and negotiations are the way forward. We do not need threats to pull down the Stormont institutions in the middle of a pandemic, but instead we need sensible, clear thinking,” he said.

“Constructive engagement will always work better than megaphone diplomacy.”

Dublin Rathdown TD Neale Richmond was critical of the threats to invoke Article 16, saying that it helps no one.

“The decision by the UK’s Foreign Secretary to pre-empt her first meeting with European Commission Vice President, Maroš Šefčovič, by stressing her preparedness to invoke Article 16 in the British press helps no one,” said the Fine Gael TD.

“Ultimately the Protocol is something this British Government negotiated, ratified and campaigned on in a General Election; it is not a foreign construct or a handy distraction to misuse for domestic political gain.

“There is a window now to iron out the implementation of the Protocol. Constant threats to invoke Article 16 or indeed to collapse Stormont help no one.”

He called for all parties to focus on the negotiations rather than threatening to pull out of Stormont.

Last week, Sefcovic warned that “the foundation of the entire deal” brokered between the UK and the EU would be jeopardised if Truss takes the drastic step.

“This is a very distracting element in the discussions. You try to achieve something together and – bam – there’s the threat of Article 16 again,” he told German newspaper Der Spiegel.

“It touches on the fundamentals of our relationship.

“The Northern Ireland Protocol was the most complicated part of the Brexit negotiations, and it is the foundation of the entire deal. Without the protocol, the whole system will collapse. We must prevent that at any cost.”

Additional reporting by Tadgh McNally

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