No compromise on Northern Ireland protocol as Truss vows to rip up Brexit pact

13 May 2022, 02:48 | Updated: 13 May 2022, 02:52

Little progress was made in talks over the Northern Ireland protocol
Little progress was made in talks over the Northern Ireland protocol. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

The European Union has accused Foreign Secretary Liz Truss of failing to compromise in negotiations over the future of Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

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Ms Truss warned the EU on Thursday that if it did not show the "requisite flexibility" over the Northern Ireland Protocol the UK would have "no choice but to act" alone.

It came after she spoke with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, with a Foreign Office spokesman saying she made clear that the UK's "overriding priority" was to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

She told Mr Sefcovic the protocol had become "the greatest obstacle" to forming a new Northern Ireland Executive.

However, Mr Sefcovic later claimed that Ms Truss had failed to meet the EU half way during the talks.

He said she had "not taken the opportunity to explore fully the flexibilities the commission has presented".

"There has been no engagement at all on these issues for the UK," he said.

"Unilateral action effectively disapplying the protocol is not a solution or a way forward."

Read more: UK faces 'trade war with EU' if Govt rip up Northern Ireland protocol, Lord Ricketts warns

Read more: Government would be 'stupid' to tear up Northern Ireland Protocol, Lord Mandelson warns

Ms Truss made clear that the UK&squot;s "overriding priority" is to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
Ms Truss made clear that the UK's "overriding priority" is to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland. Picture: Alamy

Mr Sefcovic went on to say that ministers were trying to undermine the protocol, drawing attention to the fact that the Government had refused to use the word "implementation" in joint diplomatic texts since March last year.

"It might have already been the plan at that time that unilateral action is politically more feasible for the UK Government," he said.

"From the moment we signed the withdrawal agreement [in 2019], what we got back was more demands or more pushes for unilateral actions disapplying the protocol."

According to the Foreign Office readout of the call, Mr Sefcovic insisted that there was "no room to expand the EU negotiating mandate or introduce new proposals to reduce the overall level of trade friction".

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "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."

The comments follow months of tensions over the working of the protocol, which forms part of the UK's Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.

Under its terms, the UK is required to impose checks on some goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in order to maintain an open border while protecting the EU single market.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovicsaid Truss had failed to meet the EU halfway
European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovicsaid Truss had failed to meet the EU halfway. Picture: Alamy

However, the Government has complained that the way it is being implemented is imposing a huge burden on businesses in Northern Ireland while leading to a renewal of tensions.

Ministers have repeatedly warned that they could unilaterally suspend the arrangements unless the EU agrees to major changes to reduce the impact.

But the move would risk provoking an all-out trade war with Brussels at a time when the whole country is struggling with the cost of living crisis.

Meanwhile, reports suggest the UK's plan to tear up parts of the Brexit deal could be delayed for up to a year by opposition in the House of Lords.

Ms Truss is expected to make a statement early next week, setting out plans to deal with the controversial protocol.

But according to the i, the Government would need to pass highly controversial legislation through both Houses of Parliament.

Simon Hoare, the Tory chair of the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, told the paper that the Government could struggle to get moves to tear up the protocol through Parliament quickly.