Liz Truss said she did not regret voting for the Northern Ireland protocol, which she believes is disastrous, suggesting she backed it in the expectation that it would be changed.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph newspaper, the foreign secretary said that a lot of the problems were “hardwired into the protocol” but then stated that the appearance of these problems came as a surprise, although the government’s own analysis at the time said that many of them would have happened.
Ms Trouss also said that the government has legal advice that states that the application of article 16 cannot do much more than the current situation, where some parts of the protocol have not been implemented.
This undermines her ongoing threats to invoke Article 16, although Ms Truss again said it was still possible.
Her comments came as MPs first debated and voted on a bill that would neutralize much of the protocol that just two years ago Boris Johnson trumpeted as a “fantastic” deal and denied it would touch the Irish Sea border.
However, due to past dishonesty about the protocol, there is deep skepticism on all sides about whether the prime minister really intends to pass the bill – which will likely take more than a year – in the face of accusations from the EU. and many lawyers that it violates international law.
When Ms Truss announced the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in May, she said she was willing to negotiate with the EU, but only if it led to the same outcome as the bill.
The message was taken by some trade unionists as an indication that whether the protocol is largely dismantled through a bill or, far less likely, through negotiations with Brussels, much of it will be implemented.
However, when Ms. Truss published the text two weeks ago, there was a slight change in wording. The foreign secretary, who by all accounts sees herself as Mr Johnson’s likely successor, has just talked about negotiating “changes” to the text of the protocol – still highly unlikely given the EU’s position, but no longer referring to the need to that these changes lead to the same result as the bill.
However, speaking to the newspaper yesterday, Ms Truss appeared to be reverting to her old rhetoric, saying the bill means businesses in Northern Ireland now have “certainty” about what’s to come. She said the government’s actions mean that “people know that by next year this decision will be made”, describing it as “a solid and reliable long-term solution to stop the feeling of drifting in Northern Ireland when people in Northern Ireland don’t know what’s going to happen.” “.
When asked if she would agree with some of the changes to the protocol, rather than all of the changes that the bill would make, she said: “Well, these issues – and there are four key issues, namely customs and SPS, VAT and state aid, management and regulation. We need to fix these four problems. Now, if there is a slightly different way of doing what the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement rebalancing results in, we would be willing to consider it.
“But what we have seen from the EU so far are solutions that are worse than the current stagnation, which would actually mean more bureaucracy… we need a solution to those four issues that fundamentally undermine the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.” . ”
Ms. Truss has repeatedly said that there are huge problems in the protocol that require urgent and drastic action. However, the government has taken no action to launch Article 16, which would allow it to take immediate action to address these issues on an interim basis while the bill passes through Parliament – if that ever actually happens. Asked why the government had not done so, Ms Truss said: “We have carefully considered the possibility of applying Article 16 as an option, and there are two problems with that. First, we could not have achieved more than we have achieved in the current stagnation. [where grace periods mean swathes of the protocol have never been implemented] by the level of checks.
“And the other problem is that it would just brush off all the problems, create more uncertainty for business in Northern Ireland and not give a clear idea that there is an outcome that we want to achieve.
“Given what this bill does, it’s very clear about the proposals – red and green stripes, dual regulation, governance reforms, VAT reforms – and businesses in Northern Ireland are now confident these issues will be addressed. With. So Article 16 would not lead us to a decision… we have been negotiating with the EU for 18 months, they have not agreed to change the text of the protocol, the situation in Northern Ireland is deteriorating and we could not let it drift indefinitely.”
Asked why Article 16 would not allow the government to make more changes than it currently has, she said: “It is simply not possible because we are already in a position where the Northern Ireland Protocol has not been fully implemented and we have a stalemate . We have looked at our legal defense and we have not been able to provide a complete solution using article 16. We still reserve the right to use article 16 if circumstances warrant it within the next few months, but the only way is the only solution with belts and suspenders. “to bring about the change that the people of Northern Ireland need through legislation and I know it will take time to pass this legislation, but for things that take time it is better to start today than to start tomorrow.”
There has been tremendous pressure from the Biden administration in the US, which has made it clear that it strongly supports the protocol and is not sympathetic to the unionists who oppose the deal. Asked if the government was really prepared to piss off the White House by going through with it, Ms Truss said: “We have to act in the interests of the United Kingdom. This is our priority as the UK government.
“We are in a very serious situation where the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is being undermined, we need to find a lasting solution that fixes this and that is exactly what I have been telling the US and all our other international partners…they [the EU] must be willing to change the protocol to deal with these very real problems that exist.”
The most vocal Brexit supporters have cited European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction as a key issue, but European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic recently told the Belfast Telegraph that Northern Irish firms would almost certainly lose full access to the single market if that were to happen. eliminated.
When asked if the European Court of Justice is a red line or something she could agree on, Ms Truss said: “This is an important issue for the people of Northern Ireland.
“It’s about making sure that where it doesn’t matter, CEC [the Court of Justice of the European Union, of which the ECJ is the most prominent aspect] not…[and that] The UK is the final arbiter. And that’s part of what makes people feel like they’re part of the UK; that the British courts are the final arbiter.”
Ms Truss said she acknowledges that the EU court has a role to play in Northern Ireland when it comes to goods traded in the EU, but that this “does not apply to goods traded between Northern Ireland and the UK”.
Given the strength of Ms Trouss’s arguments against the protocol and her insistence that changes should be made to its text, not how the text is interpreted, it would appear that the Foreign Secretary now regrets voting in favor of the protocol. Not this way. When asked if she regretted supporting him, she replied, “No, I don’t. We needed to do Brexit, we needed to do Brexit.”
Despite the government’s own advice at the time, which made it clear that the protocol would lead to most of the problems that materialized, she continued: “I don’t think anyone has quite foreseen exactly how the protocol will be implemented. I think we came in with an expectation of more flexibility from the EU that we haven’t seen. But we have to deal with the situation that we have now, which is the very serious situation in Northern Ireland; we cannot leave this situation to chance.”
But if there is nothing wrong in the text of the protocol and it is only about its implementation, then why change the text now? She said, “I didn’t say that. I said it had unintended consequences that we didn’t foresee at the time and the situation in Northern Ireland is unique… I think we expected that we would see more flexibility from the EU given Northern Ireland’s history, how difficult it has been. get the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement first; we thought we’d see more flexibility in wanting to change the text.
“International treaties are constantly changing – it is normal for these treaties to change…it is perfectly normal if an international agreement does not work effectively to change the text of that international agreement, and one would expect a partner to be willing to do so, given the serious situation with which we collided.”
But when she voted for the protocol, didn’t she think it meant the Irish Sea border? Ms Truss paused for a few seconds before replying, “We didn’t expect there to be a level of bureaucracy as a result of this.”
Even though the government’s own assessments at the time said so? A spokesperson stepped in and said the interview had dragged on, but after the question was asked again, Ms. Truss said: “I am dealing with a situation that has developed now that we are seeing a reduction in trade from east to west, where we have seen businesses stop shipping to Northern Ireland where we have had no Northern Ireland establishments since February.
“This is the situation I’m dealing with, and I have a responsibility to sort it out.”