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UK cabinet split over new plan by Liz Truss to ‘rip up’ Northern Ireland Protocol

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Cabinet minister Michael Gove favours a softer approach. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Cabinet minister Michael Gove favours a softer approach. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Cabinet minister Michael Gove favours a softer approach. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The British government appears to be split over plans by its foreign secretary Liz Truss to rip up the Northern Ireland Protocol, despite claims it could secure a devolved government.

Ms Truss is said to be at the “vanguard” of attempts to act unilaterally to override the Brexit deal in the wake of the local elections.

The issue has become more urgent following last week’s poll in which Sinn Féin become the largest party in the North, as the prospect of direct rule from Westminster risks further controversy.

However, cabinet sources said that chancellor Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, are obstacles to Ms Truss’s plan.

Mr Gove is said to favour a “slightly softer approach and talking for longer”, while Mr Sunak has “always had a problem with unilateral action” because of concerns it could cause a trade war with the EU that would worsen the cost-of-living crisis.

A second government source suggested that the pair had meddled in the process, saying: “There is a difference between those who understand it, and those who seek to involve themselves in it.”

UK prime minister Boris Johnson is understood to be torn on the timetable for unilateral action, with one source close to discussions describing his opinion on the matter as the “million-dollar question” within government.

It is understood the preferred “unilateral action” of cabinet hawks would involve a package of measures including “red and green lanes” for goods travelling to Northern Ireland and the Republic, “trusted trader schemes” to manage hauliers travelling to Northern Ireland only, and heavy legal penalties for those who import goods to the Republic that were meant to remain in the North.

Dominic Raab, Mr Johnson’s deputy, yesterday said the issue must be resolved in “weeks and months”, with a Whitehall source adding that the elections had created increased urgency.

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Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis is thought to be bullish, claiming that talks with the EU are now at a “last-chance saloon”.

Sources close to Mr Gove said he would always support his government’s position on the protocol. A representative for Mr Sunak said he was “relaxed” about whether negotiations with the EU should continue and would defer to Mr Johnson and Ms Truss.

Ongoing disputes about the correct approach to the protocol mean there will not be any legislative measures about it in the queen’s speech tomorrow, with suggestions of a bill replaced with “anodyne” language that ministers will try to resolve the border issues.

But it is understood the speech will include the British government’s long-awaited veterans bill, which has been modified so that an amnesty on prosecution of Troubles-era crimes will not apply to those who refuse to give up intelligence on unsolved murders.

The bill has been rewritten after its draft form, which offered a blanket amnesty, was criticised by those who did not think it would provide enough incentive for former IRA fighters to co-operate with investigators’ inquiries.

Mr Lewis considered imposing fines on those who refused to co-operate, but has decided to deny them access to a statute of limitations unless they work with the process.

The decision is likely to anger Sinn Féin, and could jeopardise the UK government’s position as mediator in the power-sharing talks taking place in the coming weeks.

Tomorrow’s speech will also include new legislation on the Irish language, as part of a “cultural and identity package” promised to Sinn Féin to bring the party back to power-sharing talks after the resignation of Arlene Foster, the former DUP first minister, in June 2021. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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