Plans to tear up NI post-Brexit deal 'won't get through Lords', says former justice sec

17 May 2022, 13:03 | Updated: 18 May 2022, 00:26

By Sophie Barnett

Former justice secretary Lord Falconer has told LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr that Liz Truss' plans to tear up the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland "won't get through the House of Lords" if they are found to break international law.

Labour peer Lord Falconer said: "At the moment [Liz Truss] is plainly saying she will rewrite the Protocol in UK legislation and that would plainly be a breach of international law.

"And the Lords will say no, for as long as they can. The government can force it through eventually under the Parliament Act, but that will take a year or two."

Lord Falconer said they will have to see the detail to see whether it is a plain breach of international law but said "it's very difficult in the light of the statement that she made this afternoon, to see how it could be consistent with international law".

Ms Truss told MPs earlier that she will bring forward legislation to suspend parts of the Brexit treaty agreed with the EU if no resolution can be found.

She reiterated that the UK's preference is to "reach a negotiated outcome" with the EU, as the Prime Minister has said previously.

However, Ms Truss said the protocol needs to be changed and that the EU's proposals "would go backward from the situation we have today".

She told the Commons the Good Friday Agreement is "under strain", saying: "Our proposed solution would meet both our and the EU's original objectives for the protocol.

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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has confirmed the Government is bringing forward a new law to allow the UK to unilaterally suspend parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has confirmed the Government is bringing forward a new law to allow the UK to unilaterally suspend parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Picture: Parliament TV

"It would address the frictions in east-west trade while protecting the EU's single market and the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.

"The challenge is that this solution requires a change in the protocol itself as its current drafting prevents it from being implemented.

"But the EU's mandate does not allow the protocol to be changed. That is why their current proposals are not able to address the fundamental concerns.

"In fact, it's our assessment that they would go backward from the situation we have today with the standstill."

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The formation of a new Executive in Belfast is currently being held up by the DUP, after they failed to elect a Speaker to the new Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Unionist party is protesting against post-Brexit trade arrangements agreed between Britain and the EU.

Ms Truss told MPs that "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," she said.

"I would also note that all of Northern Ireland's political parties agree on the need for changes to the protocol."

Ms 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."

The announcement comes as tensions continue to rise with the EU over post-Brexit border rules.

Last month, an LBC exclusive revealed plans were being drawn up to give UK ministers the power to unilaterally ditch key parts of the deal signed with Brussels in 2019.

The plans being drawn up are even more far-reaching than the government’s repeated threat to trigger Article 16 – a move that would suspend the controversial Protocol, which requires checks on some goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Instead, the legislation being planned would bypass Article 16 and the Brexit agreement completely by superseding it with new UK legislation.

EU leaders have already warned the UK not to renege on its commitments under international law, with the European Commission urging Britain once again to "engage" with its proposals.

Spokesman Daniel Ferrie told a press briefing in Brussels: "I think our message is loud and clear: engaging with us on the basis of the proposals we put forward last October, engaging with us on those flexibilities, is a much better course than engaging unilaterally."

Asked if he could expand on commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic last week suggesting he would be willing to look at changing EU legislation if "Britain was constructive about implementation of the protocol", Mr Ferrie said: "In general, when we came forward with the flexibilities last October we said this was not a 'take it or leave it' type package.

"The vice-president said himself in his statement on Thursday that we made clear there is still potential to be explored in our proposals.

"That's all I would want to say about that, and of course you know that the Foreign Secretary is scheduled to speak later on and we can react accordingly after that."

Mr Ferrie said he did not have anything to add to the readout of the phone call between Mr Sefcovic and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Monday evening.