Brexit: Liz Truss given February deadline by DUP to fix protocol

Unionists must see progress ‘imminently’, says Northern Ireland’s first minister

Ashley Cowburn,Adam Forrest
Thursday 27 January 2022 20:07
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<p>Foreign secretary Liz Truss</p>

Foreign secretary Liz Truss

The DUP has targeted 21 February as a fresh deadline for foreign secretary Liz Truss to deliver a solution to Northern Ireland Protocol problems, as the post-Brexit row rumbles on.

First minister Paul Givan warned that unilateral action would be need if a deal on easing controls on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain cannot be reached with the EU within weeks.

After meeting Ms Truss on Thursday, the senior DUP figure said she had referred to 21 February as a “significant date” for progress in its negotiations with Brussels – the day a summit of the Joint Working Committee on the Withdrawal Agreement takes place.

Mr Givan suggested a breakthrough must be achieved by then – and again raised the threat that DUP ministers at Stormont would act to halt Brexit checks at Northern Ireland ports.

“I have emphasised the absolute critical nature of that progress being made, because the protocol is causing instability these institutions, it is damaging our economy and this is having a very real impact on Northern Ireland,” Mr Givan said.

The first minister added: “So we need to see that progress, we need to see that imminently and we also need to see action taken by the UK government if there isn’t an agreed outcome”.

Mr Givan said his party colleague Edwin Poots will order a stop to the controversial checks after a failed bid to secure the wider approval of the Stormont Executive to continue them. “That is something that the DUP have said that we were going to do, and we are going to do that.”

Ms Truss shared her determination to secure a deal on the protocol that can command support in Northern Ireland after a day of meetings with business and political leaders in the region.

The foreign secretary said: “What I want is a deal that works for everyone. We are making progress. I want to make significant progress by February. That’s important but it’s important that we secure the support of all of the communities in Northern Ireland, including the unionist community.”

Sinn Fein has warned that any attempt by the UK government to suspend the protocol by triggering its Article 16 mechanism would cause more uncertainty in Northern Ireland.

The foreign secretary recently insisted there was a “deal to be done” and agreed to enter into intensified talks with Brussels following a meeting with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic.

However, Mr Sefcovic has reportedly told member states he is “frustrated” with talks, and there is “no prospect of an imminent breakthrough”. It came despite Brussels officials referring to improved “atmospherics” since Ms Truss took charge of negotiations at the end of last year.

The EU negotiator is also said to have told a private meeting of the European parliament that talks would need to conclude by the end of February before campaigning for the May elections in Northern Ireland.

Despite the apparent thawing of some of the tensions between Brussels and London, however, Boris Johnson risked heightening the row once more on Wednesday when he accused the bloc of implement the protocol in an “insane” and petty way.

Speaking in the Commons after being challenged by the DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, he said: “I never thought, we negotiated, that it would mean 200 businesses would stop supplying Northern Ireland, foods being blocked and Christmas cards being surcharged.”

“Frankly, the EU is implementing this in an insane and pettifogging way — we need to sort it out,” the prime minister added.

Asked today’s comments by Ms Truss regarding the significance of February, the prime minister’s official spokesperson told reporters: “We’ve never put a particular date on things, but as you know it’s always been our intention to reach an agreement as quickly as possible.”

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