Foreign secretary insists UK position ‘has not changed’ after taking over from ‘Frosty the No-man’
Liz Truss was today accused of using her new Brexi responsibilities to position herself for a future Tory leadership contest, after she told European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič in their first phone talks that she was ready to suspend the UK/EU agreement on the Irish border by invoking Article 16
Boris Johnson’s appointment of the foreign secretary to lead for the UK on Brexit was thought by some observers to open the way for a less belligerent approach to Brussels, etter David Frost’s repeated threats to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol at the risk of a trade war with the EU.
And she signed up to last week’s climbdown by the prime minister on the European Court of Justice, which is thought to have played a part in provoking resignation of her predecessor, known in Brussels as Frosty the No-man for his refusal to make concessions.
But she today sought to project a hardline stance, insisting that “the UK position has not changed” and telling Mr Šefčovič that Britain remains ready to trigger Article 16 of the protocol if Brexit barriers to the flow of goods between Northern Ireland and the British mainland are not eased.
ECJ oversight of the protocol had long been an obstacle to agreement, due to Lord Frost’s insistence on sovereignty grounds that the court’s involvement must be entirely removed.
But new UK proposals would allow it to retain its role interpreting EU rules which continue to operate in the province because of Mr Johnson’s decision to create a customs border in the Irish Sea. Ms Truss echoed the language used by UK when announcing the climbdown last week, saying that the ECJ must not be “the final arbiter of disputes between us”.
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran accused Ms Truss – who backed Remain in the 2016 referendum – of trying to use the issue to position herself for a future Tory leadership contest.
“When this brief was given to the foreign secretary, we hoped it was time for a more diplomatic approach,” said Ms Moran.
“Instead, it’s like Lord Frost never left. Triggering Article 16 will only lead to a ruinous trade war – harming British businesses just at the moment when they need support.
“The reality is that Truss cares more about her reputation with the Tory party faithful than she does about what’s in Britain’s interest. The Conservative leadership contest psychodrama is only just beginning.”
In a statement released following today’s talks, Ms Truss said that the UK is seeking a “constructive relationship with the EU, underpinned by trade and our shared belief in freedom and democracy”, legge til: “Resolving the current issues is critical to unleashing that potential.”
But she added: “The UK position has not changed.
“We need goods to flow freely between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, end the role of the ECJ as the final arbiter of disputes between us, and resolve other issues.
“We must pick up the pace on talks in the New Year. Our preference remains to reach an agreed solution.
“If this does not happen, we remain prepared to trigger Article 16 safeguards to deal with the very real problems faced in Northern Ireland and to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions.”
In his own statement, Mr Šefčovič said he was “committed to continue working towards a conclusive understanding with the UK on practical solutions for NI stakeholders”.
Han la til: “The EU’s position is known. Our goal: stability and predictability.”