EU unimpressed over Liz Truss’s post-Brexit threats
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Mairead McGuinness, the EU financial services commissioner and Irish politician, put her hopes in the UK Foreign Secretary to break the impasse in discussions over key issues with the EU. Ms Truss took on the role of Brexit negotiator following Lord David Frost’s resignation from the Government last month over its “direction of travel” regarding Covid restrictions.
While discussions with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol have been continuing throughout last year, with some concessions put on the table by the bloc, some key issues remain.
Those include the role of the ECJ, medicines shipped into the country from the rest of the UK, as well as wider customs issues and VAT.
Ms Truss is set to hold face-to-face talks with Maros Sefcovic, the EU Commission vice president, this week.
The Foreign Secretary has already stated she would not agree to any arrangement that involved EU checks on goods moving within the UK.
The EU has suggested expanding the definition of goods which are not deemed to be at risk – reducing the need for customs checks.
However, the Government has said that goods entering Northern Ireland that are not destined for the EU should not face any checks.
Ms Truss reiterated the Government’s threat to trigger Article 16 of the Protocol – which would suspend elements of the agreement – if a negotiated settlement cannot be reached.
Ms McGuinness said the UK and the EU must find a solution to the row before the Northern Irish Assembly elections in May.
Speaking on RTE radio today (Tuesday), she responded to Ms Truss’s recent comments: “They probably reflect the current view, if you like, as was held by her predecessor.
“But, on the other hand, I’m hoping that Liz Truss will also bring some pragmatism to the situation.”
Ms Guinness said it was important to give the UK and EU negotiators “time”, adding that she hopes 2022 can bring a “fresh start” to talks.
Following a meeting with Ms Truss on Monday, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that the UK Government needed to provide a timetable for when changes will be made to the Protocol.
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Sinn Fein held separate talks with the Foreign Secretary.
After the meeting, Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein politician, said the continued talk about triggering Article 16 was “reckless”.
In Northern Ireland, the post of First Minister and Deputy First Minister must be held by a politician from a unionist and a nationalist party, as per the Good Friday Agreement.
Sir Jeffrey has indicated that a “pause” on the DUP’s threat to collapse the current power-sharing agreement between the two parties will remain pending the outcome of negotiations with the EU.
Reacting to Ms Truss’s recent comments, he tweeted: “She is right that unionists do not consent to the Protocol and we need the Government to follow through on their commitment to safeguard the Union and protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK Internal Market.”
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie also welcomed the Foreign Secretary’s comments as a “way forward in dealing with trade issues with the EU”.
He added: “It is perfectly reasonable that goods from Great Britain which are destined to stay in Northern Ireland should not be subject to checks, and those goods destined for the EU market can be checked at our ports.”
However, Mr Beattie was critical of Sir Jeffrey’s threats to withdraw his minister from the Executive.
He said: “Further engagement and negotiations are the way forward.
“We do not need threats to pull down the Stormont institutions in the middle of a pandemic, but instead we need sensible, clear thinking.”
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