Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is the UK’s new lead negotiator with the European Union on the Northern Ireland Protocol, following the resignation of Brexit minister Lord David Frost.
Frost resigned on Saturday evening, having originally planned to leave in January 2022, citing worries over the government’s “direction of travel” on the economy and pandemic restrictions.
Prime minister Boris Johnson is no longer seeking the removal of the European Court of Justice from its role in enforcing the protocol – a point of disagreement with Frost.
‘Article 16 still on table’
His resignation came a day after he finished alks with the EU for this year by expressing disappointment that aside from medicines, there had “been much less progress in other areas” in talks on the protocol.
On Friday 17 December, Lord Frost warned the UK remains “ready to use the Article 16 safeguard mechanism if that is the only way to protect the prosperity and stability of Northern Ireland and its people”.
As Truss took over managing EU relations “with immediate effect,” European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said he hoped to continue negotiations with Truss in the “same constructive spirit”.
The EU Brexit negotiator tweeted on Sunday 19 December: “I take note of the appointment of @trussliz as co-chair of the Joint Committee and Partnership Council.
“My team and I will continue to cooperate with the UK in the same constructive spirit on all important tasks ahead, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.”
In an interview with the Financial Times, Sefcovic said an agreement on the protocol would allow both sides “to move to where I think we both should belong: to the global stage, where we are tackling together global challenges from climate change, some security threats from the fringes of Europe and really develop that strategic element of our co-operation”.
‘In Liz we Truss’
Truss has become the UK’s co-chair of the Partnership Council and the Joint Committee, while Chris Heaton-Harris becomes Minister of State for Europe, deputising for the foreign secretary when necessary on EU Exit and the protocol.
She became the first female Conservative foreign secretary in September after two successful years as international trade secretary.
Supporters of Truss point to her success at negotiating free trade deals while trade secretary, telling the FT that Truss “has form when it comes to negotiating knotty deals”.
Truss, who campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, is popular among Conservative voters and is seen as a potential rival to Boris Johnson as prime minister. On her appointment as foreign secretary, the Guardian reported that some of her supporters had coined the slogan: “In Liz we Truss.”
‘Golden opportunity' for NI firms
Meanwhile Simon Hoare, Conservative MP and chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said yesterday (Sunday 19 December) on BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that "now the dust has settled ...on operational matters", businesses in NI were "starting to see the very real benefits in terms of new opportunities...by being in the EU single market and the UK internal market".