UK set to introduce new legislation to make changes to Northern Ireland Protocol

UK FOREIGN SECRETARY Liz Truss has 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 the English 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. 

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.”

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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. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Belfast yesterday to meet leaders of the Stormont parties in an attempt to secure progress. But he also issued a warning to Brussels that the UK is prepared to rewrite unilaterally the terms of the Brexit deal.

EU leaders have been urging the UK Government to fully participate in talks.

Truss held calls with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic yesterday evening. Coveney said afterwards: “I made clear that breaking international law is not the answer to solving protocol issues. The EU/UK negotiating teams have not met since February. Time to get back to the table,” he tweeted this morning.

During the calls, Truss said she underlined the importance of upholding the Good Friday Agreement and re-establishing the Northern Ireland Executive.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman had said earlier today that Truss’s statement to parliament will “set out the rationale for our approach”.

UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, had said there had been “no intention” to introduce legislation this week to unilaterally overwrite parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“We would like to do that by agreement with the EU but we reserve the right to do what we need to do the right thing for the people of Northern Ireland and the wider United Kingdom,” he told BBC Breakfast.

One government official suggested to Politico that the legislation could come in early June if there is no movement by the EU.

– Additional reporting PA and Garreth MacNamee

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