EU Has 'Absolutely No Reason' To Be Annoyed By Our Protocol Plans, Liz Truss Says

Foreign secretary says changes would not "make the EU any worse off" — but the proposals have already sparked fears of retaliation.
The EU has said it will not renegotiate the protocol that the UK signed up to as part of the Brexit deal.
The EU has said it will not renegotiate the protocol that the UK signed up to as part of the Brexit deal.
NIKLAS HALLE'N via Getty Images

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has insisted there is “absolutely no reason” why the EU should be angered by the government’s decision to rip up part of the Brexit deal with the EU.

The government yesterday published its long-awaited plan to override the Northern Ireland protocol — the part of the Brexit agreement that governs trade in the province — to ease customs checks on goods travelling between the region and the rest of the UK.

The UK has argued that the bill is essential to preserve the Good Friday Agreement, which brought about peace in Northern Ireland after decades of violence.

But the EU has said that introducing the changes would represent a breach of international law and that it would be prepared to take legal action if the they came into effect.

But speaking to Times Radio, Truss suggested the EU did not have any grounds to “react in a negative way” to the legislation it had brought forward.

“Our solution doesn’t make the EU any worse off,” she claimed.

“We continue to protect the single market, we’re supplying the EU with data, we’ve got strong enforcement to make sure companies aren’t violating the rules.

“So there is absolutely no reason why the EU should react in a negative way to what we’re doing.”

The foreign secretary also sought to defend the government’s actions on the basis it would help bring about a solution to the deadlock in Northern Ireland, where the executive is not functioning.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has refused to nominate a deputy first minister and Speaker as part of the power-sharing agreement at Stormont, largely due to its opposition to the protocol.

“The reason that we feel that we absolutely had to take action is because of the situation in Northern Ireland,” Truss told the BBC Good Morning Ulster programme: “

“The fact is that the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is being undermined. We haven’t seen an executive formed since February, we have seen east-west trade diminished, trade diverted to north-south. We’ve also seen the people of Northern Ireland not able to benefit from tax breaks.

“These are all issues that we need to sort out. Our preference is to sort them out with the EU, but as yet the EU are not agreeing to change the text of the protocol.”

In the bill published on Monday, the government laid out proposals to introduce separate “green” and “red” lanes for goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Goods staying in Northern Ireland would travel through the “green” lane and be freed of “unnecessary” paperwork.

Goods destined for the EU via the Republic of Ireland would travel through the “red” lane and would be subject to full checks and controls and full customs procedures. The UK says this would protect the EU single market, as Brussels has demanded.

At the moment, goods in Northern Ireland also need to comply with EU rules even if they will never enter the single market.

But under the legislation, businesses would have the choice of placing goods on the market in Northern Ireland according to either UK or EU rules.

The government has argued this is to ensure that Northern Ireland consumers are not prevented from buying UK standard goods, as can happen at the moment.

But responding to the draft legislation, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said renegotiation of the protocol was “unrealistic” and that “no workable alternative solution has been found to this delicate, long-negotiated balance”.

“Any renegotiations would simply bring further legal uncertainty for the people and businesses in Northern Ireland. For these reasons the European Union will not renegotiate the protocol,” he said.

He also raised the prospect of Brussels retaliation, which could take the form of a damaging trade war with the UK.

“It is with significant concern that we take note of today’s decision by the UK government to table legislation disapplying core elements of the protocol,” he said. “Unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust.

“In particular, the protocol provides business operators in Northern Ireland with access to the EU single market for goods. The UK government’s approach puts this access – and related opportunities – at risk.

“Our aim will always be to secure the implementation of the protocol. Our reaction to unilateral action by the UK will reflect that aim and will be proportionate.”

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