Plans to scrap parts of NI protocol do not breach international law, Truss says

Coveney says with war in Europe this is not a time to create rancour between UK and EU

Britain's foreign secretary Liz Truss has promised to publish a legal statement backing up her claim that unilaterally scrapping parts of the Northern Ireland protocol will not breach international law.

The European Union has threatened to retaliate if Britain presses ahead with the plan, which would remove most of the checks on goods going into Northern Ireland from Britain.

“We are very clear that that is legal under international law, and we will publish a legal statement very shortly outlining the government’s legal position,” Ms Truss told the BBC.

The foreign secretary has said she wants to pursue negotiations with the EU in parallel with the introduction of legislation next month.

The Bill could take almost a year to complete its passage through Parliament but Ms Truss said the political situation in Northern Ireland meant there could be no delay in introducing it.

"The situation is very severe. The Executive hasn't been formed since February. And we're only going to be able to get it back up and running, to get the Belfast Agreement working again, by delivering this solution," she told Times Radio.

Intense negotiations

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said a solution to the issues surrounding the protocol could be found within weeks if the British government was serious about seeking one. But speaking at Collins Barracks in Cork he questioned whether domestic political reasons in the UK might take precedent.

“We accept of course that there are issues in relation to the implementation of the NI Protocol that need compromise, that need flexibility, that need pragmatism, but the way to address those concerns, predominantly concerns among the unionist community in Northern Ireland, is for intense negotiations over the next few weeks between the EU and the UK negotiating teams,” he said.

“I believe we can agree a landing zone on some of those issues, but the truth is that there has been no serious engagement between the negotiating teams since February so the idea that the British government would move to introduce legislation, when there has been no serious engagement for months, doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Alexandra Hall Hall, a former British diplomat in Washington, revealed on Wednesday that Ms Truss once claimed that the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Ireland would only "affect a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks".

Ms Hall Hall, who had until now not identified the minister who made the remark, tweeted that she was “so pleased to see Liz Truss become a genuine expert on Irish matters”.

Border poll

Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond told an Ireland’s Future event at Westminster on Wednesday evening that the Government should establish an Oireachtas committee on Irish unity to prepare for a possible Border poll.

He told the event, at which representatives of Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance also spoke, that a poll could conceivably be held in the next decade.

“Brexit has fundamentally changed the tone of debate when it comes to Irish unity and the fact that this British government has chosen to pursue the hardest possible form of Brexit has put in stark context the divisions that exist across these islands,” he said.

“It is now very conceivable that a British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland could call a border poll on Irish unity within the next decade. It is therefore the Irish Government’s duty to ensure that we are as best prepared as possible to meet the challenge of such a Referendum.”

Mr Coveney earlier said that with a war raging in Ukraine, which has displaced millions of people, now was not the right time for the UK to take unilateral action on the post-Brexit arrangement.

“The EU wants good relations with London - let’s not forget the context in which this is happening, we have a war at the heart of the continent of Europe at the moment, the scale of which we have not seen since the Second World War,” said Mr Coveney.

"This is not a time to create tension and rancour and division and stand-offs between London and Brussels and that is the message from Brussels. We want this issue resolved through negotiation and partnership and compromise coming from both sides, not just one side."

The Minister said he hoped to meet Ms Truss at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Turin, Italy on Friday at which he plans to set out his position and that of the Government about the protocol.