Northern Ireland

Liz Truss reiterates hard line with EU as Rishi Sunak suggests a 'negotiated outcome' to protocol impasse will be quicker

Rishi Sunak at the Tory leadership hustings. Picture by Hugh Russell
Rishi Sunak at the Tory leadership hustings. Picture by Hugh Russell

TORY leadership favourite Liz Truss has signalled an uncompromising approach to the impasse around the protocol, insisting she will not back down to Brussels in her bid to assert the primacy of the UK courts.

The foreign secretary's hardline remarks at a lunchtime hustings event in Co Down yesterday came as her rival Rishi Sunak indicated a more conciliatory – and faster – approach to dealing with the EU.

The pair of leadership hopefuls addressed an audience of around 250 Conservative Party members at the Culloden Hotel in Cultra.

The event is one of a series of hustings taking place ahead of the next prime minister being named on September 5.

Ms Truss is currently the bookies' favourite, leading Mr Sunak by up to 20 points in recent polling.

The event saw the two candidates address the audience separately before taking questions individually from party members.

Both were quizzed on the absence of a Stormont executive due to the DUP's continued boycott of the institutions and their commitment to the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which seeks to disapply aspects of the post-Brexit trading arrangements agreed with the EU.

Ms Truss said that as prime minister she would not accept any compromises when renegotiating the protocol.

"I will not accept anything that does not deliver on the key issues I talked about," she said, insisting the UK courts, rather than the European Court of Justice, would be "the ultimate arbiter".

She also stressed that east-west trade must be "free flowing" and that the north should "benefit from the tax benefits delivered by the UK government".

Asked about speculation that peers would water down the legislation that completed its passage through the Commons without amendments, she said: "It might take time to get this bill through the House of Lords, but the sooner we start, the sooner we will finish, and I am determined to get it done as quickly as possible.

"What I expect is the House of Lords will see the fact that this bill has got a strong mandate from the House of Commons and they will understand that this is a priority for the government to deliver."

When asked if she would bow to pressure from Brussels and Washington to agree a compromise, the foreign secretary claimed she would be "very clear" with US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"I took on responsibility for negotiating the Northern Ireland Protocol, and against a lot of the advice in Whitehall and against of the wishes of some of the people you've mentioned, and I will be very clear with people like Nancy Pelosi exactly what I think about this and exactly what we need to do – I have got on with delivering this," she said.

She said the proposed legislation is "absolutely legal".

Mr Sunak insisted his approach to dealing with the protocol was similar to his rival's but that if elected prime minister he would initially seek to "find a negotiated outcome".

"Both of us are committed to passing the bill that is in parliament, but you know, as well as I do, that bill will take time to pass," he said.

"So in the interim, of course, as a new prime minister, I would seek to talk to Europe and Ireland and the French to see if we can find a negotiated outcome."

The former chancellor said he had "good relationships with all my counterparts across the board".

"Because the negotiated outcome if it's there, and history shows us that even when Europe say they're not open to changing anything they have, because if that negotiated outcome is there, it will be far quicker than waiting for the bill to pass."