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UK still wants deal with EU on Northern Ireland Brexit rules — minister

LONDON — Britain still wants to resolve a row with Brussels over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, a senior minister said, as he was pressed on reports the U.K. is preparing to unilaterally rip up parts of the arrangement.

In an interview with ITV News, the U.K.’s Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, declined to confirm multiple reports that legislation paving the way for Britain to ignore parts of the controversial Northern Ireland protocol is being readied for next week’s queen’s speech. That speech marks the opening of a new parliamentary session and sets out the U.K. government’s agenda.

Asked if Britain is preparing to announce a plan along those lines, Lewis said: “Our focus is on resolving the issues with the protocol, ideally we want to do that by agreement with the European Union.”

Pressed further on whether an announcement would come next week, he said: “No … we’ve not said that.”

And he added: “What we’ve been clear about is at the moment, the protocol is causing problems in civic society, it’s causing problems with the Good Friday Agreement. Our duty to the people of Northern Ireland is to resolve those issues. Yes, we want to do that with the EU and that’s what [Foreign Secretary] Liz Truss has been focused on.”

U.K. ministers have previously acknowledged that the government is considering a range of options in case the talks with the European Commission on the protocol — which was drawn up to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland post-Brexit but is deeply unpopular with Northern Ireland’s unionists — do not yield solutions. But they have stopped short of publicly setting out their thinking.

Truss reiterated to her Irish counterpart Simon Coveney Wednesday evening that the protocol “is not working,” while the Irish minister told her during the same phone call that “unilateral action [is] not the way forward.”

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