Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have admitted the government’s plan to override the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol will not pass through parliament for some time, with the deadlock set to continue for the foreseeable future.
Both of the Tory leadership contenders said they were committed to the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill during a Belfast hustings, however Sunak took a more conciliatory tone toward the EU.
The bill was introduced to parliament in June and outlines measures for the UK to unilaterally drop almost all checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, which has led to the EU launching legal action.
Boris Johnson said in June that the bill would be in place by the end of this year, however the comments from today’s leadership hustings suggest otherwise.
Sunak said if a “negotiated outcome is there, it will be far quicker than waiting for the bill to pass” parliament and that “I would seek to talk to Europe and Ireland and the French to see if we can find a negotiated outcome”.
Truss also said that it “might take time” to pass the controversial bill through both houses of parliament, but was more bullish in her tone toward Brussels.
The Tory leadership frontrunner said she would “not accept” anything less than a settlement with the EU that upholds the key details in the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.
She said her red lines were “making sure UK courts are the ultimate arbiter, making sure we have free East to West trade, making sure people of Northern Ireland can benefit fom the tax benefits delivered by the UK government”.
The UK and EU both agree the protocol, which is as a part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, is not working and that stringent customs checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea are creating economic and political difficulties in Northern Ireland.
Stormont is currently suspended as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refuse to continue the country’s power sharing agreement until the protocol is ditched or substantially changed.
The UK’s new bill sets out ambitions for the UK to create a “green lane” to allow goods intended only for Northern Ireland to pass without checks, while products that are being transited into the Republic of Ireland will be put into a “red lane” and require border checks.
It also ends the role of the European Court of Justice as the body responsible for enforcing the protocol, with ambitions to instead create an independent arbiter.
Brussels says the UK government’s decision to act alone was a breach of international law and a legal challenge has been launched.