Brexit Hopes Dashed as U.K.’s Truss Digs In on Northern Ireland
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K.’s new minister in charge of post-Brexit negotiations reiterated a threat to unilaterally suspend parts of the deal, keeping up the tension between Britain and the European Union over Northern Ireland.
“The U.K. position has not changed,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Tuesday after her first call with European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic. “We remain prepared to trigger Article 16 safeguards to deal with the very real problems faced in Northern Ireland.”
Truss has taken charge of negotiations over the future of Northern Ireland following the resignation of Brexit Minister David Frost, who quit in protest over coronavirus restrictions.
Her initial comments dash any hopes for a quick fix to the issue. Talks made slow progress under Frost -- who had called for a root-and-branch overhaul of the post-Brexit settlement for Northern Ireland -- with the EU unwilling to discuss wholesale changes.
Britain’s primary complaint is that the protocol, which places an effective customs border down the Irish Sea to ensure no hard border on the the island of Ireland, disrupts trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. The protocol was signed and agreed by the British government in 2019.
The EU has threatened strong retaliation if Britain were to unilaterally suspend the deal, including terminating the entire post-Brexit trade agreement. The prospect of the U.K. triggering Article 16 has also drawn criticism from the U.S. and hurt progress on a trade deal with Joe Biden’s administration.
Last week, with Frost still in the post, the U.K. signaled a softening of its position, saying it would be happy to conclude an interim deal in the spring that dealt with the most pressing issues, dropping its demand for a comprehensive fix on all its complaints.
“We must pick up the pace on talks in the new year,” Truss said. “Our preference remains to reach an agreed solution.”
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