Boris Johnson’s government long threatened to trigger an emergency clause to suspend parts of the post-Brexit settlement in Northern Ireland. But as the UK tries to up the ante with the European Union, what was once regarded as the nuclear option is now not deemed tough enough.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Tuesday triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol—a legal mechanism within the UK-EU divorce deal—wouldn’t have delivered what the UK wants. On Monday, she published a law allowing ministers to unilaterally rewrite the bulk of the protocol instead.
“All it would do is put the situation back to what it is now,” Truss said on Sky News on Tuesday of Article 16. “We need to deal with the protocol itself.”
Both Truss and David Frost, who was formerly in charge of negotiations with the EU, have repeatedly said conditions in Northern Ireland justified the use of Article 16 but that the government was holding off to allow for negotiations with the bloc. In January, Truss wrote in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper that she was ready to use the provision.
Yet talks with the EU failed to yield a solution the UK wants, while British politics have also changed dramatically since then. Johnson barely survived a confidence vote in his Conservative Party, and in response has doubled down on controversial policies that appeal to the Tory right-wing caucus.
The legislation published Monday would give British government ministers the power to rewrite the Northern Ireland protocol without consulting Parliament. It is likely to face strong opposition from lawmakers including from more centrist Tory MPs, and has been questioned by legal experts. It also risks retaliatory action by the EU at a sensitive time for the British economy.