Ulster Unionist stalwart Sir Reg Empey and TUV leader Jim Allister made their comments as Liz Truss begins to settle into her new role, having been appointed to it earlier in the week after Lord Frost quit.
Lord Frost had been at pains to stress his resignation was less about the government’s Brexit stance than it was about its approach to Covid.
His replacement Ms Truss now adds the Brexit portfolio to her two other jobs – namely being foreign secretary, and minister “for women and equalities”.
Ms Truss (previously a remainer during the 2016 referendum) said yesterday: “We need goods to flow freely between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, end the role of the European Court of Justice as the final arbiter of disputes between us, and resolve other issues.
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“We must pick up the pace on talks in the New Year. Our preference remains to reach an agreed solution.
“If this does not happen, we remain prepared to trigger Article 16 safeguards to deal with the very real problems faced in Northern Ireland and to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions.”
Mr Allister responded by saying: “If Liz Truss is serious and this genuinely is the UK government’s bottom line, it would represent significant progress. But let’s see.
“The Government has been making some of the right noises since the summer, but there has been no progress. It’s action, not words we need.
“For me the test for any deal is quite simple - are we still subject to foreign laws we do not make and cannot change, in a foreign single market for goods, under a foreign VAT regime and all overseen by a foreign court?
“If we are, then the abominable situation of our annexation remains. Mere tinkering will not change that, nor will soothing words.”
Lord Empey meanwhile said that “mere mitigations or triggering Article 16 do not alter the Protocol; they may affect how the Protocol operates but don’t replace it”.
He added: “Only a new or amended treaty will deliver that, and this can only be achieved by negotiation.
“We wish the Foreign Secretary well in her talks with the EU next month.
“The sad fact is that Northern Ireland has been put in this mess by our own Prime Minister’s proposals to the EU in October 2019.”
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