Liz Truss outlines 'necessity to act' on Northern Ireland protocol
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Sources have told Express.co.uk the Prime Minister has “lost patience” with the current Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, who has been partially blamed by many Tory MPs for Sinn Fein becoming the largest party in the Stormont elections earlier this month.
A change of leadership in the ministry comes as the Government has unveiled its plans to unilaterally change the controversial Northern Ireland protocol with the announcement of a new Bill which would restore its full place in the UK.
Mr Burns, who has been a long time friend and ally of Mr Johnson, was recently sent to Washington DC to persuade the Joe Biden administration in the White House to back down on opposition to changes to the Protocol.
Mr Burns, who is currently number two in the Northern Ireland Office, is a Catholic Unionist who was born in Belfast and as a result has enjoyed good relations with both sides of the sectarian divide.
Meanwhile, Mr Lewis provoked outrage from many of his colleagues when he told MPs in the Commons during the first attempt to change the protocol last year that it broke international law.
He has also been under heavy criticism for delays in giving former soldiers who served during the Troubles the same immunity from prosecution enjoyed by ex-IRA terrorists over incidents including Bloody Sunday.
One senior Tory MP said: “Brandon [Lewis] has just gone native in the Northern Ireland Office.
“A lot of the civil servants are from the Nationalist side of Irish politics and have influenced him too much. We need somebody there who can ensure our policies get through.”
One Whitehall source who had been told of the mooted change told Express.co.uk: “This is good news because Conor is from Northern Ireland and he is a Brexiteer who wants to get rid of the NI Protocol. The current SoS for NI is awful.”
But a Downing Street source described reshuffle speculation as “like fantasy football” at this stage.
Meanwhile, Brexiteer Tory MPs in the European Research Group (ERG) met tonight to discuss the planned changes to the Protocol.
The meeting was briefed by DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson who welcomed Liz Truss’s announcement.
But Rejoiners who have tried to undo Brexit, attacked the announcement last night.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who was at the meeting and was one of the Brexiteer Spartans who held out against Theresa May’s compromise, said: “The announcement is very welcome and we are all pleased with it.
“It is just a pity that the announcement was not made 30 days ago because it would have helped us in the local elections and probably ensured the DUP were still the largest party in Northern Ireland.”
On the criticism by Remainer groups like the TUC, he added: “The EU and Remainers have always tried to use Northern Ireland as a way of stopping Brexit and then undermining it so their reaction is hardly surprising.
“They are probably more angry that Northern Ireland will be less of a tool for them to use in trying to get us back into the EU.”
It comes after Ms Truss detailed a law to change the post-Brexit Protocol for Northern Ireland in the Commons today.
In Parliament, the Foreign Secretary said the proposed law would not scrap the deal but make limited changes, such as freeing the movement of UK-made goods from “unnecessary bureaucracy” and regulatory barriers.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said of Ms Truss’s statement: “This is a mess of the government’s own making.
“It says everything about ministers’ warped priorities that in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, they risk provoking a trade war which could see prices skyrocket further.
“Working people must not pay the price. Ministers must honour the agreement that they signed and put practical solutions ahead of ideological posturing.
“They need to get back around the table with the EU as soon as possible and come to an agreement that protects jobs, livelihoods and the Good Friday Agreement.
“And they must act in good faith to repair the UK’s now-trashed reputation as a trading partner.”
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Sinn Féin MP John Finucane said while Mr Johnson’s Tories continue to give cover to the DUP to block an Executive being formed to support workers and families, while they “launch a plan to break the law”.
He said: “People voted to make politics work, to fix the health service and invest an extra £1 billion and they voted for an Executive to put money in their pockets to deal with the cost-of-living crisis.
“They did not vote for Boris Johnson and the Tory party to give cover to the DUP to hold society here back and block the formation of an Executive.
“We need an Executive up and running now, people should not have to wait a day longer. No one has a veto over progress.
“Today, the same British government that negotiated and agreed the Protocol has announced a plan to legislate to break international law and undermine the Good Friday Agreement.
“Businesses are benefiting from the huge opportunities afforded by the Protocol to create jobs and attract investment through unique access to the British and EU markets.
“The British government should stop creating further instability, end the threats to take unilateral action and work constructively with the EU in negotiations to find solutions to fix the problems.”
Jamie Bryson, loyalist activist and editor of Unionist Voice, told Express.co.uk Ms Truss’ statement “sets out broad overview of potential legislation”, but as of now “it remains only words”.
He added: “Nevertheless if those words turn into legislation which becomes law, then it would dredge out the key organs of the Protocol & dismember it. If the Government wish to cremate it, or preserve the corpse for the purposes of making it look better in any international law dispute, I do not really care.
“If the Act of Union is restored- and in order to deliver the economic and citizenship party Liz Truss promised it must be- and EU and the ECJ is stripped out, then the Protocol is dead, and not a day too soon.
“Today is a good start, it is in some ways a remarkable day. The unionist/loyalist community were told the Protocol was a holy writ, it couldn’t be altered, we would have to suck it up.
“In fact, it is the Protocol cheerleaders who will have to suck up the dismembering of their precious Protocol, and I have to say, it’s delicious to watch their bitter tears and uncontrolled fury.
“Let’s Get Brexit done and free NI from being the hostage of the EU. Strong unionists will finish the job we started.”
DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed Ms Truss’ proposed legislation, and told Express.co.uk: “We warned about the consequences of the Protocol when it was first introduced.
“The Protocol threatens our place in the United Kingdom, endangers jobs for our people, drives up costs for customers and reduces choice on our shelves.
“The statement today is a welcome if overdue step in addressing the problems created by the NI Protocol. Powersharing cannot coexist with the Protocol. Powersharing only works with the consent of both unionists and nationalists. Such consensus does not exist at the moment.
“We believe in devolution and want to see it fully restored as soon as possible but it must be sustainable. Therefore, these matters must be dealt with in days and weeks rather than months or years. It is, after all, two and half years since the Government committed to legislate in New Decade New Approach.
“As this legislation progresses, we will take a graduated and cautious approach. We want to see the Irish Sea border removed and the Government honouring previous agreements by restoring Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.
“Legislation is now needed to repair the damage inflicted by the Protocol to the Acts of Union and put in place new and revised arrangements that are sensible.
“The words today are a good start, but actions will speak louder than words. It is progress that there is now a focus on the problem. This time last year, Brussels, Dublin, SF and the Alliance Party refused to even acknowledge the problem. They wanted the ‘rigorous implementation’ of the Protocol.”
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