The Daily Telegraph

Respect NI Protocol deal if we are to stay friends, EU chiefs warn PM in waiting

- By James Crisp and Jamie Johnson

BRITAIN must “respect” its commitment­s under the Northern Ireland Protocol if it wants a “constructi­ve relationsh­ip” with the EU, the European Commission president told Liz Truss.

Ms Truss has less than two months to get the Protocol Bill through the House of Lords to convince the DUP to return to Stormont and avoid new elections – but the EU says the legislatio­n breaks internatio­nal law.

Ursula von der Leyen issued a veiled warning over the Bill, which hands ministers powers to tear up the Brexit treaty, as Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, said “the last thing” Britain and Ireland needed was “a trade war between the EU and the UK”.

“Congratula­tions Liz Truss. The EU and the UK are partners. We face many challenges together, from climate change to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Mrs von der Leyen said yesterday.

She added: “I look forward to a constructi­ve relationsh­ip, in full respect of our agreements.”

“A positive EU-UK relationsh­ip is of great strategic importance, I stand ready to work intensivel­y and constructi­vely with my new UK interlocut­or to foster such a partnershi­p, in full respect of our agreements,” Maros Sefcovic, the EU negotiator, said.

“All we need is… friends,” Charles Michel, the European Council president, said in a reference to the Beatles in his congratula­tions.

The DUP is refusing to form a new devolved government after last May’s elections – which led to unionists losing their majority to Sinn Fein for the first time in Northern Ireland’s history – until the Irish Sea border treaty is removed or replaced.

A caretaker government is in place but must be dissolved by Oct 28 unless a new executive is formed. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is then obliged to call new elections within three months or by Jan 19 at the latest.

Peers have threatened to tie up the Bill, in “weeks and weeks of battle” when it comes before them in early October, which means the deadline could be missed.

Washington has warned it will not agree a trade deal with the UK if it tears up the treaty preventing a hard Irish border and risks underminin­g the peace process. The DUP urged Ms Truss to keep her promise to fix the post-Brexit trading arrangemen­ts, which mean customs checks on British goods and animals entering Northern Ireland to prevent a hard Irish border.

But Michelle O’neill, who led Sinn Fein to victory in the elections, said Ms Truss “should stop facilitati­ng the DUP’S destructiv­e and self-serving boycott of government” and “end her sabre-rattling and reckless threats to break internatio­nal law and get back to the table for talks with the EU”.

The Government could bring forward primary legislatio­n to postpone new elections, but Ms Truss has championed the Bill as a way to convince the DUP to re-enter Stormont. She could try to convince them to return to powershari­ng by triggering Article 16, which disapplies parts of the treaty, but that would also infuriate Brussels.

Failure to meet the deadline for a new executive would prolong the Stormont stalemate and bring second elections within nine months of the May vote.

There has been no fully functionin­g executive since February when the DUP collapsed it when First Minister Paul Givan resigned over the treaty.

The deadlock has prevented the payment of cost of living support in Northern Ireland and action to cut NHS waiting lists, which are the UK’S worst.

The DUP might want fresh elections – which it denies – to recover their loss of majority and the post of First Minister, which will go to Sinn Fein for the first time if Stormont is restored.

If the second election resulted in a DUP majority and Sinn Fenn refused to restore power-sharing, there would be 24 weeks to form an executive before a third vote was triggered.

In other reaction to Ms Truss’s win from around the world, Emmanuel Macron said he was “ready to work as friends and allies” with her. He suggested the controvers­y over her comments that the “jury’s out” on the French president was just “froth” compared with challenges such as the energy crisis and war in Ukraine.

‘Congratula­tions. I look forward to a constructi­ve relationsh­ip, in full respect of our agreements’

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