The government is preparing to delay the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill as it tries to reach a deal with the EU over the post-Brexit treaty, according to reports in the national media.
Rishi Sunak has decided not to bring the controversial bill back to the House of Lords this year, after UK-EU relations have improved since he became prime minister, reports City AM.
According to the Sunday Times, private talks with Brussels have paved the way for a new deal on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol by February.
A senior government official said that the PM wants to “give room to the negotiations”.
The bill will not be returned to the Lords this year, giving negotiators time to thrash out new trade rules by St Valentine’s Day to stop rows disrupting preparations for April’s commemorations of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement.
Talks between London and Brussels have been at a stalemate for more than a year.
The bill, if passed, would allow the government to unilaterally overwrite the protocol and remove most of the checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but it is the subject of legal challenges by the EU.
Brussels has said it could tweak the implementation but warned it will not re-write the protocol.
The EU is preparing to give some ground on data-sharing and the role of the European Court of Justice, the Sunday Times claims.
However, Downing Street denied the bill had been halted completely, the Newsletter reports.
A senior official said: “To give room to the negotiations we are not asking for the whips to bring it back to the Lords now. We want to give negotiations the best chance. Public discussions of amendments would not be helpful at this stage.
“We’ll let the team try the negotiations with Brussels first. If that doesn’t work, we’ll do the bill with the Lords.”
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Sammy Wilson told the Belfast Telegraph that the government is “whistling in the wind” if it believes that putting the legislation on hold to see if a deal can be agreed with the EU will work.
Not progressing the bill would be “a grave mistake”, by the government, he said.
The DUP has refused to take part in the power sharing arrangement in Stormont since February in protest at the protocol.