Boris Johnson lines up new law to axe Northern Ireland Brexit rules

Boris Johnson lines up new law to axe Northern Ireland Brexit rules – but it will not be introduced until the summer as ministers insist they are ‘not picking a fight’ with EU … yet

  • Liz Truss will declare her intention to bring forward legislation to MPs later 
  • It would alter parts of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal on Northern Ireland 
  • But it is unlikely to be introduced before the summer and is an ‘insurance’ policy

Ministers softened their tough talk with the EU over Northern Ireland today as they admitted they were not looking to ‘pick a fight’ with Brussels if they didn’t have to. 

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will declare her intention to bring forward legislation which rips up parts of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal on Northern Ireland to MPs later.

Critics have said the move to rewrite parts of the deal could risk a trade war with the European Union.

But it was reported today that while Ms Truss’s statement will outline the broad thrust of the new law’s aims, it is unlikely to be tabled until the summer.  

A Foreign Office source said ‘this isn’t about picking a fight with the EU’, saying that Ms Truss’ priority is to uphold the Good Friday Agreement.

This morning the Marks & Spencer chairman said the Northern Ireland protocol is ‘very, very onerous’ and had so far cost the business ‘about £30 million’.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Archie Norman, who is an ex-Tory MP, said it was ‘very, very tough’ to meet current requirements.

It came after Boris Johnson visited Belfast to meet party leaders yesterday, in a bid to unlock an impasse in efforts to form a new Executive in Stormont.

The Democratic Unionist Party refusing to join an administration unless its concerns over the arrangements are addressed.

The PM last night insisted he does not want to ‘scrap’ post-Brexit rules for Northern Ireland but said new legislation to set aside parts of an EU agreement was needed as ‘insurance’.

The PM last night insisted he does not want to ‘scrap’ post-Brexit rules for Northern Ireland but said new legislation to set aside parts of an EU agreement was needed as ‘insurance’.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will declare her intention to bring forward legislation which rips up parts of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal on Northern Ireland to MPs later.

The sausage war spat that threatens to undo the Brexit agreement 

The row over the Northern Ireland Protocol began almost as soon as the Brexit agreement with the EU came into force.

The UK’s departure from the block required the two sides to find a square peg that would fit into a round hole: how to avoid a hard border (IE checkpoints) between Ulster and Ireland and yet introduce a viable customs border between the EU and a new external ‘third party’ state.

The protocol avoids a hard border between by effectively keeping the North inside the EU’s single market. 

But it requires checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea from Britain.

This compromise incensed unionists who felt that it ‘othered’ an integral part of the UK. 

The UK began talks seeking to alter the terms of the agreement, despite it having been signed off by the PM just months earlier. 

After a year of further negotiations between various ministers and Brussels got nowhere, unionists took action into their own hands in February.   

DUP first minister Paul Givan resigned in February in an effort to force movement.

This action left the Executive unable to fully function, due to the way it was set up to share power under the Good Friday Agreement. While ministers remained in post, they were restricted in the actions they could take.

Since 1998, when the governance system was devised as part of Northern Ireland’s historic peace accord, the first minister has always been a unionist.

But that all changed last week, when Sinn Fein became the largest party at Stormont for the first time ever.

But the DUP has insisted that it will not return until its demands over the protocol are met. 

It means that the assembly is still non-functioning. 

Since the election ministers have begun to again talk of replacing the protocol with domestic UK legislation. 

This would be illegal under international law and could cause the whole Brexit agreement to collapse. 

The Biden administration has also taken a dim view, urging continued talks to solve the problem. 

The main focus now appears to be on tweaking the current rules, rather than completely scrapping them.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said he wanted to see light-check ‘green lanes’ established for goods entering the region from Great Britain that were not destined to travel into the European Union’s single market.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Brandon Lewis said: ‘The solution is, and what we’ve been outlining to the EU, that products that are moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland should effectively go through what has colloquially been called a ‘green lane’.

‘So, those products that are being consumed in the UK, used in the UK, from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, should not be going through the same checks as products that are moving into the EU, into the single market – that’s pretty much what we have been outlining.’

After holding talks with all five of Northern Ireland’s main parties in Belfast, the Prime Minister appeared to back away from an immediate threat to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Johnson said the Protocol could be ‘fixed’ and claimed none of the main Stormont parties he spoke to had been supportive of the current implementation of the post-Brexit trade rules.

The PM added he would ‘love’ reform of the Protocol to be done in a ‘consensual way’ with the EU, but also confirmed plans for a ‘legislative solution’ should the UK fail to strike a deal with Brussels.

A majority of MLAs in Stormont’s newly elected Assembly represent parties that support retaining the protocol, with many arguing that the arrangement offers the region protection from some of the negative economic consequences of Brexit.

They also point to the unfettered access Northern Ireland traders have to sell into the EU single market as a key benefit of the protocol. 

Ms Truss plans to lay the legislation in Parliament within a couple of weeks, and certainly before the summer recess in July.

But the overwhelming preference is thought to remain a negotiated solution.

The Global Britain (Strategy) Committee, which consider matters relating to the UK’s trade priorities, will meet this morning before a full Cabinet in Downing Street. The Foreign Secretary will delivers her statement to the Commons this afternoon.

On Monday evening, she held calls with Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, and European Commission vice-president, Maros Sefcovic.

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

Mr Sefcovic later said engaging with ‘flexibilities’ offered by the EU would be preferable to taking unilateral action on the protocol.

He tweeted: ‘With political will, practical issues arising from the implementation of the protocol in Northern Ireland can be resolved.

‘Engaging with us on the flexibilities we offer would be a better course of action than unilateral one. We’re ready to play our part, as from the outset.’

Irish premier Micheal Martin on Monday said that the only way to resolve the row was ‘substantive talks’ between the UK and the EU.

Discussing the protocol this morning, M&S boss Mr Norman laid out the issues involved in trading in Northern Ireland. 

‘At the moment, wagons arriving in the Republic of Ireland have to carry 700 pages of documentation. It takes about eight hours to prepare the documentation. Some of the descriptors, particularly of animal products, have to be in Latin. It has to be in a certain typeface. We employ 13 vets in Motherwell to prepare it all…’

Mr Norman, who also said the protocol costs ’30 per cent more driver time’, claimed the EU is ‘looking for us to impose comparable controls for Northern Ireland’ and warned this would stop the movement of goods altogether in some instances.

‘The EU are looking for us to impose comparable controls for Northern Ireland and were that to happen, it would mean that quite a lot of product from the UK simply wouldn’t get to Northern Ireland and what does go there would be very very costly,’ he said.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said he wanted to see light-check ‘green lanes’ established for goods entering the region from Great Britain that were not destined to travel into the European Union’s single market.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Brandon Lewis said: ‘The solution is, and what we’ve been outlining to the EU, that products that are moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland should effectively go through what has colloquially been called a ‘green lane’.

‘So, those products that are being consumed in the UK, used in the UK, from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, should not be going through the same checks as products that are moving into the EU, into the single market – that’s pretty much what we have been outlining.

‘There are too many companies, including major supermarkets, at the moment who have no stores in the Republic of Ireland, who are moving their products from their depots in Great Britain into Northern Ireland for sale and consumption in Northern Ireland, but going through checks as if they were going into the EU.

‘That just doesn’t work and there are products that can’t travel that way.’

He added: ‘What sometimes gets missed in this is that what the EU is proposing now is that some of the checks we’ve had grace periods for – we are at a standstill at the moment where we are not fully applying some of the checks the EU wants – they actually want to bring those in, so they want to make matters materially worse for the people of Northern Ireland, and that’s just not viable.’

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