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‘No option off the table’: UK continues row with EU over Northern Ireland deal

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is set to tell the EU that the dispute over Northern Ireland cannot drag on (Victoria Jones/PA)
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is set to tell the EU that the dispute over Northern Ireland cannot drag on (Victoria Jones/PA)

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is set to tell the EU that the dispute over Northern Ireland cannot drag on, as she faces warnings not to tear up the post-Brexit agreement on the region.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove warned on Wednesday that “no option is off the table” but insisted Britain will continue to negotiate to resolve differences over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

European leaders have warned the Government against taking unilateral action, as ministers consider whether to introduce legislation overriding parts of the deal.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stressed “no-one should unilaterally cancel, break or in any way attack the settlement”.

Ms Truss is expected to reiterate in a call with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic on Thursday the risk to the Good Friday Agreement and warn that the situation cannot drag on.

Mr Gove, who previously led talks with Mr Sefcovic, told LBC radio he is “super cool” with threats to tear up the protocol.

But he insisted the Government is not going to tear up the agreement, telling BBC Breakfast: “No. We are going to negotiate with the EU in order to get the best possible outcome for the people of Northern Ireland, but no option is off the table.”

He insisted Mr Sefcovic and the Foreign Secretary have a “good relationship”, adding: “They will try to make progress tomorrow. I know that both of them are fully committed to making sure we resolve some very difficult issues that have arisen.

“You would expect a UK Government, when it is thinking about the security of the entire United Kingdom, to say that there is no option that is off the table, and that is absolutely right.”

Liz Truss with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic
Liz Truss with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic (PA)

Mr Gove dismissed suggestions he was among Cabinet opponents of tearing up the protocol, which was agreed by Boris Johnson in 2019.

Asked how angry he was on a scale of one to 10, Mr Gove told LBC radio: “Minus five. I’m super cool with it and I’m a big, big Liz Truss fan.”

Downing Street backed Ms Truss in claiming some EU proposals are “a backwards step”, but declined to say whether preparations have been taken for a possible trade war with the bloc.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

“We want nothing but good relations with our EU partners but I’m not going to get into speculation about what might happen down the line.”

He said “some relatively minor concessions” from the EU in the past “show that where there was willing, change could be achieved”.

Asked if the Government was drawing up controversial new legislation, the spokesman said: “I wouldn’t get into, on any issue, the ins and outs of policy development.

“This is something we’re looking at closely, it’s a serious issue, all options are on the table.”

Officials working for Ms Truss are drawing up draft legislation to unilaterally remove the need for checks on all goods being sent from Britain for use in Northern Ireland.

The PA news agency was told that Ms Truss is poised to take further action in the coming weeks if negotiations with the EU continue to stall.

The proposed law would allow businesses in Northern Ireland to disregard EU rules and regulations and remove the power of the European Court of Justice to rule on issues relating to the region.

Crucially, it would in parts override the protocol agreed by Mr Johnson in 2019 and mean the UK had breached its obligations under the Brexit agreement.

But it was argued the protocol will not be completely overridden, with measures instead being considered to ease the issues on the ground in Northern Ireland.

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