Foreign secretary Liz Truss, who has taken over the Brexit brief after Lord David Frost resigned at the weekend, has repeated that triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol remains an option if the EU does not compromise further.
At 1.40pm today, Truss issued a statement saying that the UK’s positions had “not changed. We need goods to flow freely between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, end the role of the ECJ as the final arbiter of disputes between us, and resolve other issues.
“We must pick up the pace on talks in the New Year. Our preference remains to reach an agreed solution.
“If this does not happen, we remain prepared to trigger Article 16 safeguards to deal with the very real problems faced in Northern Ireland and to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions.”
Although ongoing talks with the EU have taken a festive pause, they will resume in the new year – with plenty of work still to be done.
Her first words on Brexit have given a good indication that she will keep Frost’s hard-line strategy going.
According to Bloomberg, Truss has the power (and prime minister Boris Johnson’s ear) to shape the UK’s relationship with the EU, starting with dealing with the challenges of trade between NI and Great Britain.
Under Frost, negotiations were progressing slowly with little give on either side as the UK sought a fundamental rewrite of the protocol, while EU negotiator Maros Sefcovic stuck doggedly to the EU script.
Medicines and more
Reuters reports that the European Commission has set out legal changes to ease the movement of medicines on safeguarding medicine supply to NI, but Truss still has to deal with barriers to trade, subsidy, and the role of the ECJ in disputes.
Boris Johnson’s climbdown over the issue of the ECJ last week is seen by some in the EU as an indication of a more constructive approach to talks with the UK.
The UK has also looked to draw a line under the fishing dispute with France and the EU by issuing more licences, as reported in the Guardian.
New face, same challenge
According to the FT, Truss will be faced with exactly the same dilemma as Frost: compromise with Brussels or risk a trade war.
Some commentators see her time as trade minister as indicating a practical politician who can get things done. As foreign secretary, she is also highly aware that US President Joe Biden keeps a keen eye on goings on in Northern Ireland.
“It’s good the Foreign Office is getting involved again,” said one EU diplomat. “Let’s give [Liz Truss] the benefit of the doubt – but I fear more of the same.”
Politico comments that Truss could find herself between a rock and a hard place as she handles the Brexit brief.
Will Tanner, director of the Onward think tank and a former No 10 adviser, said Truss needs to deliver the best deal she can.
“That is a difficult task given some of the demands of the most Eurosceptic wing of the party, but ultimately she will want to come to a resolution because not doing so would have very significant economic consequences for the UK - especially in the short-term as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Noting Truss appointment, Sefcovic tweeted that his team would “continue to cooperate with the UK in the same constructive spirit on all important tasks ahead, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland”.
He did not tweet a farewell to his British sparring partner.
Sefcovic provided an update on his last meeting with Frost on Friday, including details of the medicines proposals.
“Discussions will resume in January,” he said.