Britain’s foreign secretary Liz Truss will on Tuesday outline plans for unilateral action to disapply parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, despite warnings that such a move could trigger a trade war with the European Union.
Separately, the British government will also on Tuesday introduce legislation that will offer the possibility of an amnesty for Troubles-related crimes to those who co-operate with a new information recovery process.
Downing Street declined to say in advance of Ms Truss’s statement to parliament if she will immediately publish the legislation required to disapply the protocol, which is written into British law.
Speaking in Belfast after meeting Northern Ireland’s party leaders, Boris Johnson confirmed that his government would press ahead with a Bill to make unilateral changes to the protocol.
“We would love this to be done in a consensual way with our friends and partners ironing out the problems, stopping some of these barriers east-west. But to get that done, to have that insurance, we need to proceed with a legislative solution,” he said.
Scrap vs fix
Mr Johnson said while the DUP was strongly opposed to the protocol, all the parties in Northern Ireland agreed that it was not operating as it should. He said he was not seeking to completely do away with the agreement which he negotiated in 2019.
“We don’t want to scrap it, but we think it can be fixed. And actually, five of the five parties I talked to today also think it needs reform,” he said.
Former Conservative Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith warned against unilateral action, urging Britain and the EU to lock their negotiators in a room until they come up with a fudge.
Mr Smith, who helped to negotiate the New Decade, New Approach agreement that restored the Stormont institutions in 2020 after a three-year suspension, said the EU should show more flexibility so that a deal could be found.
Downing Street declined to give details of the legislation Ms Truss will announce, including whether it will directly disapply parts of the protocol or simply give ministers the power to do so. Either way, a Bill could take months to complete its stages through parliament and risks being rejected by the House of Lords, delaying its passage for a year.
Separately, the British government will on Tuesday introduce the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which will establish an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery to conduct investigations into deaths and serious injuries during the Troubles, with the power to compel witnesses.
Immunity from prosecution
The commission will grant immunity from prosecution to those who adequately co-operate with its inquiries but those who do not co-operate will remain liable to prosecution. The Bill also includes memorialisation measures centred on an oral history project that will allow people from all backgrounds to share their experiences of the Troubles.
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said the current system provided neither truth nor justice for the vast majority of families and was letting down victims and veterans alike.
“Every family who lost a loved one, no matter who they were, will be provided with more information than ever before about the circumstances of their death. A robust and independent investigations process will be at the heart of this approach, supported by an ambitious and comprehensive oral history programme that will allow people to tell their stories and share their experiences,” he said.
“And there will not be any automatic access to immunity; it is right that those involved in an investigation cannot obtain ‘something for nothing’. Immunity will be provided to individuals who co-operate, which provides the best route to give victims and their families answers they have sought for years as well as giving our veterans the certainty they deserve.”
An earlier proposal to block prosecutions and other legal actions for Troubles-related crimes was opposed by all parties in Northern Ireland and by the Irish Government.