New UK Prime Minister Liz Truss on Wednesday said she hoped talks with the EU could help resolve a dispute over post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland.
“My preference is for a negotiated solution,” she told MPs in parliament, in her first appearance as premier since formally taking office on Tuesday.
“But it does have to deliver all of the things we set out in the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill,” she added.
The bill, spearheaded by Truss in her former role as foreign secretary, proposes scrapping parts of the deal that London signed with Brussels as part of the UK’s departure from the bloc.
It is currently winding its way through parliament, despite EU warnings that it breaks international law and could spark retaliatory trade sanctions.
The UK government opposes internal border checks on goods heading from mainland Great Britain — England, Scotland and Wales — to Northern Ireland.
The EU has stipulated checks are needed to prevent goods getting to the European single market via neighbouring member state the Republic of Ireland.
Removing hard border infrastructure between Northern Ireland and the republic was a condition of the 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence over British rule.
But pro-UK unionist parties say that the checks cut Northern Ireland adrift from the rest of the UK, heightening the risk of a united Ireland.
Truss said her “number one priority” was “protecting the supremacy” of the peace deal, against a backdrop of concern from US President Joe Biden’s administration in Washington.
She vowed to resolve the issue, which has led unionist parties to withdraw from the power-sharing devolved government in Belfast.
“I want to work with all of the parties in Northern Ireland to get the executive and the assembly back up and running,” Truss added.
“But in order to do that, we do need to fix the issues of the Northern Ireland protocol, which has damaged the balance between the communities in Northern Ireland.
“I’m determined to get on with doing that and I’m determined to work with all parties to find that resolution.”