Liz Truss has been warned by unionist leaders that there will be “major implications” if she does not soon set a date to end negotiations with Brussels over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), told The Times that the foreign secretary needs to set a “clear date” to end talks over the implementation of the post-Brexit treaty.
It comes after EU chief negotiator Maros Sefcovic last week said the UK had seriously undermined trust with Brussels during the protocol negotiations.
Talks over the protocol have been at a standstill for months, after the UK and EU both proposed changes to reduce checks going on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland still follows EU customs union and single market rules, unlike the rest of the UK, post-Brexit in order for a hard border to be avoided with the Republic of Ireland.
Stringent EU border checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea last year created significant economic and political disruption in Northern Ireland, with empty supermarket shelves and unionist riots creating urgency to fix how the protocol is implemented.
Truss is now charged with leading negotiations for the UK, after Lord David Frost quit his post as defacto Brexit minister last month.
Donaldson said: “We need a clear timeline in which there is an expectation of real progress or the government takes the action that is necessary. It is crucial that Liz Truss moves this process forward quickly and that we get real and meaningful progress on a range of issues, not least of which is removing the checks on the movement of goods within the UK internal market.”
He added: “January is going to be an absolutely crucial month. If we don’t get rapid and decisive progress, and one side or the other is kicking the can down the road, this will have major implications for the stability of the political institutions in Northern Ireland.”
Boris Johnson has consistently threatened to trigger Article 16 and suspend the protocol if the EU does not make enough concessions in talks.
Sefcovic last week told German newspaper Der Spiegel that triggering Article 16 would damage “the foundation of the entire [Brexit Withdrawal Agreement]”.