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Ministers step back from the brink of trade war with EU over Northern Ireland

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iz Truss has set out plans to introduce new laws which could override the Northern Ireland Protocol but insisted she has no intention of scrapping the Brexit trade deal for the region.

The Foreign Secretary stopped short of tabling legislation on Tuesday which could have breached the UK-EU Brexit Treaty and sparked an immediate trade war with Brussels.

But while she made it clear that it was the Government’s preference was still to find a negotiated settlement with the EU, she said it was her intention to introduce legislation “in the coming weeks” in parallel with talks with Brussels.

She said she had invited the European Commission’s Vice-President Maros Šefčovič to a meeting in London as soon as possible. Mr Šefčovič reacting to the plan on Tuesday said he had “significant concerns” and warned that “unilateral actions are not acceptable”.

In a statement to MPs, Ms Truss said: “We remain open to a negotiated solution but the urgency of the situation means we can’t delay any longer.”

The Foreign Secretary said the legislation would comply with international law amid concerns from some MPs that taking unilateral action would damage the UK’s credibility and reputation on the world stage.

“The bill is consistent with our obligations in international law,” Ms Truss said. “This is not about scrapping the Protocol..Our aim is to deliver on the Protocol’s objectives.

“The EU will not be negatively impacted in any way,” she said adding that the changes being proposed by the Government would “respect the unions of the UK and EU”.

She said that without resolving issues raised by the Protocol, the UK would “not be able to establish the objective and preserve the hard won progress made possible by the Good Friday Agreement. We need to restore the balance in the agreement.”

The search for a solution to the Northern Ireland crisis has become more urgent after the Stormont Assembly was left unable to function because of opposition to the Protocol from the Democratic Unionist Party.

The DUP argues that the Protocol undermines links between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK by creating a trade border in the Irish Sea, introducing costly and time consuming chevcks on some goods moving between Great Britain and the region.

The DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed the Foreign Secretary’s statement saying it was a “good start” but warned that “actions speak louder than words”.

“The statement today is a welcome if overdue step,” Sir Jeffrey said. “It is a significant move towards addressing the problems created by the Protocol. We hope to see progress on a Bill in order to deal with these matters in days and weeks not months.”

The Foreign Secretary set out for the first time the details of the new legislation, which could be tabled before Parliament breaks for summer recess at the end of July. These included:

* The introduction of a new green channel which will free goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and staying within the region from “unnecessary bureaucracy” through our new green channel. Goods travelling on to the Republic of Ireland would be subjected to EU checks.

* A Trusted Trader scheme to provide the EU with real time commercial data, which would be underpinned by data sharing arrangements with Brussels to give the European Commission confidence that goods entering Northern Ireland are not entering the EU Sinhgle Market.

* The removal of regulatory barriers to goods made to UK standards being sold in Ireland. Businesses will be able to choose between meeting UK or EU standards in a new regulatory regime.

* A new governance regime which would remove the oversight of the European Court of Justice on settling disputes and give primacy to UK courts.

* New measures to protect the EU single market by implementing robust penalties for those who do not those who seek to abuse the system.

Although the move by Ms Truss will be seen as provocative in Brussels, she repeatedly made it clear that it was the UK’s preference to find a negotiated settlement.

Earlier Marks & Spencer chairman and former Tory MP Archie Norman described the Protocol as “very, very onerous” and estimated it was costing the retailer “about £30 million”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said it was “very, very tough” to meet current requirements.

“At the moment, wagons arriving in the Republic of Ireland have to carry 700 pages of documentation. It takes about eight hours to prepare the documentation. Some of the descriptors, particularly of animal products, have to be in Latin. It has to be in a certain typeface. We employ 13 vets in Motherwell to prepare it all…”

Mr Norman, who also said the protocol costs “30% more driver time”, claimed the EU is “looking for us to impose comparable controls for Northern Ireland” and warned this would stop the movement of goods altogether in some instances.

“The EU are looking for us to impose comparable controls for Northern Ireland and were that to happen, it would mean that quite a lot of product from the UK simply wouldn’t get to Northern Ireland and what does go there would be very very costly.

“What the British government is proposing at the moment is a triumph of common sense over rules based mentality and will make sure at a time of inflation that the Northern Irish people can get the fresh food they are used to and are entitled to.”

Responding to the foreign secretary’s statement,European Commission’s Vice-President Mr Šefčovič said the UK and the EU’s relationship “must be based on the full respect of the legally binding commitments” that both countries had made as part of the withdrawal agreement.

He said any legislation seeking to override the Protocol raised “significant concerns”.

“Should the UK decide to move ahead with a bill disapplying constitutive elements of the Protocol as announced today by the UK government, the EU will need to respond with all measures at its disposal,” he said.

“Our overarching objective is to find joint solutions within the framework of the Protocol. That is the way to ensure legal certainty and predictability for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.“With political will and commitment, practical issues arising from the implementation of the Protocol in Northern Ireland can be resolved.”

Ireland’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said: “I deeply regret the decision of the British government to introduce legislation in the coming weeks that will unilaterally dis-apply elements of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

“Such unilateral action in respect of an internationally binding agreement is damaging to trust and will serve only to make it more challenging to find solutions to the genuine concerns that people in Northern Ireland have about how the Protocol is being implemented.”

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