Tory leadership hopeful Liz Truss could be set to create an even greater crisis over the Irish Protocol of Brexit if, as expected, she becomes the next British Prime Minister on Monday.
Truss has benefited from the support of a powerful right-wing media who orchestrated a bitterly negative campaign against her chief rival Penny Mordaunt. As a result, Truss is now all but certain to win the election due to take place on Friday among members of the British Conservative party.
Truss’s eagerness to reprise the jingoism of the outgoing Boris Johnson was clear this week when she refused to say if French premier Emmanual Macron is ‘friend or foe’. Longer term, she is likely to style herself as Britain’s new ‘Iron Lady’ in the mould of the former PM Margaret Thatcher.
She will be expected to quickly repay the right-wing extremists who paved the way for her success.
Unionists and British nationalists continue to campaign for a Brexit outcome which will return a remilitarised border to divide the two jurisdictions in Ireland. They are among those looking to Truss to follow through on her promises and take a wrecking ball to the Protocol – and the Good Friday Agreement it protects.
Living up to her nickname as ‘the human hand grenade’, Truss has already threatened to launch a legal war and a trade war against Brussels within days of taking office.
Her threats are said to be motivated in part by a fast-approaching deadline for London to respond to legal proceedings launched against it by the EU for failing to implement proper checks on trade into the north of Ireland. The deadline for doing so is September 15, 10 days after the next prime minister is announced.
Truss’s threat to trigger the Article 16 ‘emergency’ option to suspend the Protocol has resurfaced as a potential legal move to justify breaking international law.
The leadership front-runner has previously boasted that it was her department which drafted the legislation to disapply elements of the Brexit deal the Tories negotiated in 2020. A senior Truss ally was quoted as describing the triggering of Article 16 as a “stopgap” until the more detailed legislation is passed.
Sinn Féin’s Six County Finance Minister described the Tory administration’s approach to dealing with the EU as “reckless” and that the north of Ireland was a casualty of that.
Conor Murphy said issues around the protocol would be resolved by dialogue and that triggering Article 16 would make “the ability to resolve any issues there are more difficult”.
“It seems that the British Tory leadership are simply playing to their own grassroots and they have no regard for the damage that that is causing the economy here, or the uncertainty that’s creating for businesses and for households here,” he said.
“When the British government act unilaterally, and then start to crank it up by talking about invoking Article 16, then they damage the prospect of dialogue to resolve these issues and that is not in our interest.”
Sinn Féin MP John Finucane also called on the Tories to end the ‘reckless threats’ of unilateral action and get back to the table with the EU.
The North Belfast MP complained of the Tories’ “total disregard” for the democratic wishes of people and businesses in the Six Counties.
“The Tories have continually worked to undermine the Protocol and strip away our businesses unique access to both the EU and British markets that is helping to create jobs,” he said.
“And rather than working to resolve the issues in a negotiation, the Tories are propping up the DUP to block an Executive and money being spent to support workers and families during a cost-of-living emergency.
“The Protocol, and the protections and opportunities it provides, is supported by the majority of people, businesses and MLAs in the Assembly.
“The British government needs to end these reckless threats and get back to the table with the EU to give certainty and stability to our businesses.”