PM hopeful vows to push for EU to come to the negotiating table again
Tory leadership contender Rishi Sunak will seek to reopen negotiations with the EU to “fix” the Northern Ireland Protocol if he becomes Prime Minister.
Rival Liz Truss brought the protocol bill to Parliament because she said continuing discussions with the EU was unproductive.
But, writing exclusively in today’s Belfast Telegraph newspaper, Mr Sunak says: “I will push for the EU to come to the table once more because a negotiation can conclude much faster than we can pass a piece of legislation.
“I am an experienced international negotiator, I will bring the contacts and know-how I gained from that work to the negotiation.”
The former British chancellor pledged to restore the Stormont institutions, and put Northern Ireland firmly at the centre of his government’s plans if he succeeds Boris Johnson.
Despite his preference for reaching a compromise through discussions with the EU, Mr Sunak adds: “Be in no doubt, under my premiership, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will continue to make its way through parliament and, if negotiation doesn’t deliver what we need to, it will become law.
“I won’t hesitate to take any necessary action to fulfil my responsibilities as Prime Minister to safeguard the rights of the people of Northern Ireland, to uphold the Good Friday Agreement, and to protect our Union.”
Introducing her protocol bill in June, Ms Truss insisted continuing discussions with Brussels was unproductive and legislation was the way forward.
“Ideally, we would fix these problems through negotiation, but the EU has ruled out changing the text of the protocol. Northern Ireland has been without a fully functioning executive since February because of the protocol, at the time of a cost of living crisis,” she said.
“Therefore it is the duty of this government, as co-signatory and co-guarantor of the agreement, but also as the sovereign government in Northern Ireland, to act.
“We are moving forward with legislation to fix the specific problems that the protocol is causing ….. All other options within the current EU mandate are currently exhausted.”
Earlier, senior allies of Ms Truss accused Mr Sunak of digging in his heels as chancellor to resist efforts to cut red tape after Brexit.
In a brutal attack on their former colleague, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke also claimed Mr Sunak wanted to “normalise” a 70-year high tax burden.
“Rishi has given up,” they said. “He wants people to fear there is no alternative to sliding into recession and that the only option is to stem the bleeding with Labour-lite economic policy.”
In their joint article in The Telegraph, they claimed: “He talks about cutting EU regulations, yet he dug his heels in as chancellor against efforts to do exactly that and realise the benefits of Brexit”.
A campaign source in Mr Sunak’s team branded the claims as “categorically wrong” A spokesperson for the former chancellor also told The Independent: “Rishi was one of the few ministers who delivered real Brexit reforms as chancellor. From establishing eight freeports to ripping up the EU rulebook when it came to financial services, he delivered a proper plan for reform and change.”
At a hustings event last night, Ms Truss said as PM she would “challenge those who try to talk our country down” and imbue “a bit more respect for ourselves and our values”.