There are fears Britain may cave to the EU in Brexit talks, as a Conservative minister has suggested that a key red line may be up for grabs. The UK Government has long insisted that the European Court of Justice should not be allowed to have the final say on how the Northern Ireland Protocol is implemented. But Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris failed to say whether or not this is still a red line for the Government.
Questioned on whether the UK Government is still insisting that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) cannot be the final arbiter in any dispute, he said: “I am afraid I am not the negotiator here.
“It is James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, with his European counterpart, Maros Sefcovic.
“And I am not privy to all of their conversations or what is going on behind the scenes completely. But, as you said, these negotiations, these talks, everybody has high expectations.”
Liz Truss’s Government previously ruled out changing its stance on the issue, after it was reported that Britain could be willing to drop its opposition to the role of the ECJ in order to reach a compromise on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
But a spokesperson for Ms Truss said: “Our view remains that it is inappropriate for a court of the EU to remain the supreme arbiter of law in Northern Ireland.”
The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol – which was agreed upon as part of the withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland post-Brexit – since October 2021.
It allows Northern Ireland to remain within the EU’s single market for goods but it has faced criticism because a border was effectively created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland down the Irish Sea.
The border has led to delays, supermarket shortages and increased costs for businesses in Northern Ireland.
Yesterday, Mr Heaton-Harris announced that the Government will be introducing legislation to extend the deadline for elections to the Stormont Assembly.
An election was triggered in Stormont after the executive was blocked from meeting due to the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The devolved government has not fully functioned since February, with the DUP blocking the formation of the ruling executive.
The Northern Ireland Secretary said he would introduce new legislation to extend the deadline for an election by six weeks, with an option for a further six-week extension if the situation is not resolved by the December deadline.
This means the latest an assembly election can be held is April 13.
Mr Heaton-Harris said Stormont’s failure to form a Government was “hugely disappointing”.
He said the “vast majority” of people he has spoken to think an election would be “most unwelcome”.
The MP told the House of Commons: “I have a legal duty to call an election that few want and everyone tells me will accomplish nothing.
“Thus, I will be introducing legislation to provide a short, straightforward extension to the period for executive formation, extending the current period by 6 weeks until 8 December with the potential for a further six-week extension to 19 January if necessary.
“This aims to create the time and space needed for talks between the UK government and the European Commission to develop
“And for the Northern Ireland parties to work together to restore the devolved institutions as soon as possible.”