Truss outlines bill to rip up Northern Ireland protocol
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has confirmed that the Government will rip up the Northern protocol and introduce new legislation if the EU continues to obstruct its calls for changes.
Ms Truss said her department would introduce legislation “in the coming weeks” to make changes in the protocol” which has caused bureaucratic chaos for firms and left the province without an assembly since the 5 May election which handed a majority to Sinn Fein.
The bill will allow the UK to set up its own “green lane” for goods from Britain intended for sale in Northern Ireland. It will enable firms there to choose whether to produce goods to UK or EU standards; put control of the border under UK jurisdiction; and allow Westminster to make the same tax rate changes in Northern Ireland as the rest of the UK.
Addressing the Commons, Ms Truss said: “Our shared objective has to be to find a solution that commands the broadest possible cross-community support for years to come and protect the Belfast Good Friday Agreement in all its dimensions.”
Her announcement was welcomed by Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, as a “welcome if overdue” step towards recognising the problems associated with the protocol and the need to get power-sharing up and running again.”
He said his party hopes to see progress on the bill to deal with the issues in “days and weeks not months”.
The DUP, he said, wants to see the Irish Sea border removed and the government keeping its promise to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.
While Boris Johnson has indicated that his government is running out of patience with the EU, ministers say talks will continue with Brussels.
Ms Truss said: “Our preference remains the negotiated solution with the EU. And in parallel with the legislation being introduced, we remain open to further talks if we can achieve the same outcome through negotiated settlement.”
She said she has invited EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic to a meeting of the withdrawal agreement joint committee in London “to discuss this as soon as possible”.
Ms 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.”
Ms Truss responded to claims from Labour and Sinn Fein that the government was disregarding an international treaty by saying the proposed bill “is consistent with our obligations in international law”.
She added: “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.
“This is not about scrapping the protocol. We will cement those provisions which are working in the protocol, including the common travel area, the single electricity market and north-south co-operation, whilst fixing those elements that aren’t, on the movement of goods, goods regulation, VAT, subsidy control, and governance.”
The Bill will include “new measures” to protect the EU single market, including “robust penalties” for those who seek to “abuse the new system”, Ms Truss said.
Why is business unhappy about the protocol?
Archie Norman, chairman of Marks & Spencer, explained that every consignment of goods sent by the company to its stores in the Republic of Ireland needed 700 pages of documentation, including some parts that had to be written in Latin, took eight hours to prepare and cost the company £30 million a year.
He said that European Union proposals to reform the Northern Ireland Brexit deal would mean that these would have to be completed on goods going from mainland Britain to the province.
At the moment such checks are not needed for goods sent to Northern Ireland because of temporary relaxations, but this would change under EU plans.
It would mean having to do the same background checks to go into Northern Ireland. “That means that every piece of butter in a sandwich has to have an EU vet certificate. So it’s highly bureaucratic and pretty pointless. There is no risk to safety. There’s no purpose to these checks,” he said.
He added that while Marks & Spencer was a large company that could cope with the additional bureaucracy this would not be the case for other small-scale food sellers who would have to cease trading with Northern Ireland.