After Liz Truss's 45p tax cut U-turn, the Northern Ireland Protocol could be next

Liz Truss - Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street
Liz Truss - Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street

Liz Truss looks certain to follow her 45p tax rate U-turn with another climbdown on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Prime Minister wanted Brussels to rip up and renegotiate the whole Protocol because its problems were "baked into it" and undermining the Good Friday Agreement.

Talks are now set for a reboot, but there is no sign the EU will rewrite the Irish Sea border treaty, or offer the fresh negotiating mandate Ms Truss called for.

Rather than a brand new agreement, a deal will be made in the legal framework of the existing Protocol.

Some border checks on British goods will remain, but others will be cut in exchange for bolstered market surveillance.

At the same time, the Prime Minister has toned down her threats to use the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to tear up the Irish Sea border treaty.

It seems that Ms Truss has caved on her demand for a wholesale renegotiation of the Protocol.

Liz Truss - Andrew Parsons/No10 Downing Street
Liz Truss - Andrew Parsons/No10 Downing Street

The groundwork is being laid for intense, secret "tunnel" negotiations in the near future and the mood music is much improved.

Who would have predicted this time last year that Steve Baker would be on Irish radio apologising for his behaviour during the Brexit negotiations, in the same week that the Prime Minister is preparing to travel for a European summit?

And in an olive branch to Emmanuel Macron, Ms Truss will take part in the first meeting of the European Political Community of EU and non-EU nations in Prague on Thursday.

At the same time, the Government has distanced itself from the DUP. It has warned unionists they have "no excuse" to continue their boycott of Stormont over the Protocol.

Ms Truss has made clear that the DUP - and not the Protocol or the EU - will be to blame if fresh elections are triggered in Northern Ireland later this month when a deadline to reform the executive passes.

Her team in Northern Ireland are backing the strategy and calling for a deal. Little wonder the DUP and loyalists fear the Tories are about to throw them under a bus.

EU sources may hope the economic crisis will make Ms Truss more eager to clinch a Protocol deal. But they are also aware of the risk that she may toughen up again to shore up her Brexiteer base if her leadership is weakened any further.

It may be that the Prime Minister is trying to tempt the EU into a negotiating tunnel, only to hit Brussels with unrealistic demands.

This would allow her to claim she had done everything she could before using the highly controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which critics say breaks international law.

Tory Party conference - Hollie Adams/Bloomberg
Tory Party conference - Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

But Government bandwidth is already consumed by Ukraine, the cost of living crisis and her new economic and leadership crisis. The Protocol and the risk of a trade war with the EU are distractions Ms Truss will not want.

The prize of finally getting Brexit done in Northern Ireland will be tempting for a politician who showed she had a taste for a deal when she was trade secretary.

If it means dropping some red lines to get the deal over the line, then so be it.

But predicting Ms Truss’s next move is difficult. After all, the lady, a reformed Remainer, is for U-turning.