The UK Government plans to rip up parts of the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland, the foreign secretary has confirmed.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Liz Truss told MPs that she will bring forward legislation to make changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Protocol was agreed with the EU in 2019 as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement with the aim of avoiding a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
However, it has brought with it a new border in the Irish Sea due to some goods coming from Britain being subject to customs checks.
It has been a source of contention since being introduced at the start of last year.
The row over the treaty has caused an impasse in efforts to form a devolved government at Stormont, with the DUP refusing to join an executive unless its concerns over the arrangements are addressed.
Addressing Parliament, Truss said that the practical problems brought by the agreement had “contributed to the sense that the east-west relationship has been undermined”.
And she said that without resolving the issues, the Government will not be able to re-establish the executive and preserve the “hard-won progress” sustained by the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement.
Under the legislation, the Government will propose separate ‘green’ and ‘red’ lanes for goods travelling between Northern Ireland, with those destined to stay within the UK freed from EU-level checks.
However, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic has criticised the plan and indicated that Brussels could retaliate over the move.
“Our proposed solution would meet both our and the EU’s original objectives for the protocol,” Truss told MPs.
“It would address the frictions in east-west trade while protecting the EU’s single market and the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.
“The challenge is that this solution requires a change in the protocol itself as its current drafting prevents it from being implemented.
“But the EU’s mandate does not allow the protocol to be changed. That is why their current proposals are not able to address the fundamental concerns.
“In fact, it’s our assessment that they would go backward from the situation we have today with the standstill.”
The foreign secretary indicated that the legislation would be introduced in the “coming weeks” to bring forward the changes .
She continued: “As the Prime Minister 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.
“That is why I am announcing our intention to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to make changes in the protocol.
“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.”
Truss insisted that the Bill is “not about scrapping the Protocol” as she said it is the Governments’ aim to deliver on its objectives.
She added: “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.”
The Scottish Government’s external affairs secretary Angus Robertson said that it was “unthinkable and indefensible” to contemplate breach the treaty.
“Today’s announcement that the UK Government are now intending to legislate to enable unilateral action to dis-apply parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol is deeply concerning,” said Robertson.
“Let us be very clear – to breach an International Treaty, signed in good faith and hailed by the Prime Minister as a ‘fantastic’ moment, is bad enough.
“To contemplate this action when facing a cost of living crisis is unthinkable and indefensible.”