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Clear choices for Liz Truss

If, as is widely expected, Liz Truss is confirmed later today as the incoming British prime minister, she has clear and immediate choices to make about both the future of the Stormont administration and the nature of her relationship with the European Union.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin sent out an encouraging message at the weekend, saying he was convinced the EU will respond positively if Boris Johnson's successor indicates a willingness to make progress over the Irish protocol.

Mr Martin, speaking at the British-Irish Association conference in Oxford, said he remained deeply concerned over indications that the British government was preparing to renege on the post-Brexit deal signed with the EU less than two years ago.

However, he said he was committed to engaging with the new prime minister, and felt that a `serious and genuine signal' from Downing Street over an agreed outcome to the issues surrounding the implementation of the protocol would be immediately reciprocated in Brussels.

At the same Oxford gathering, EU vice president Maros Sefcovic was fully entitled to point out that it would be `legally and politically inconceivable' for the British government to try and unilaterally change the conditions which it previously negotiated under which goods can enter the EU single market.

He said he was ready to work constructively with the UK to find a common solution within the protocol, which has the endorsement of a firm majority of Stormont MLAs, but expressed frustration that Westminster had not engaged in meaningful discussions since February.

Addressing the British-Irish Association on a related issue, secretary of state Shailesh Vara said he would have to call an Assembly election at the end of October if the Stormont devolved institutions are still not functioning.

The DUP withdrew from the executive earlier this year as part of its protests against the protocol, even though it was an inevitable outcome of the Brexit disaster for which the same party robustly campaigned.

An opportunity plainly exists for the introduction of amendments to the protocol which will protect its key principles while also allowing better understandings between the UK and the EU to emerge.

Ms Truss has struck a belligerent tone during her campaign for the Conservative leadership but, if she wants to avoid being drawn into an entirely unnecessary confrontation with the EU at the very start of her term of office, she should extent the hand of friendship to both Mr Martin and Mr Sefcovic.

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