Liz Truss says Steve Baker ‘speaking for himself’ in Brexit apology

Truss warned EU will ‘retaliate’ against hated Brexit deal

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Liz Truss has sparked fears of a fresh Tory rebellion after saying Steve Baker was speaking for himself when he claimed the behaviour of him and some of his colleagues was wrong during negotiations with the European Union. On Sunday, the Brexiteer minister and former deputy chair of the European Research Group (ERG) said at the Conservative Party conference he had not behaved “in a way that encouraged Ireland, the European Union and others to trust us” in Brexit talks.

The Northern Ireland minister added he had said “sorry” when he met Irish leaders following the death of the Queen last month and that as a result, he believed “the ice is thawing a bit”.

But Liz Truss has sparked another furious Tory backlash following her response to the comments from Mr Baker at the weekend.

She said in an interview with Northern Ireland broadcaster UTV: “Steve speaks for himself. I think we have a very good relationship with the Republic of Ireland.

“I had a very good meeting with the Taoiseach, talking about the future. I want to work constructively with the Republic of Ireland and the EU, as well as all the parties in Northern Ireland.

“Steve speaks from his own personal experience of being deeply involved in the Brexit debate, but he also speaks for the whole Government, in that we absolutely want to find a negotiated solution to deal with the issues of the Northern Ireland Protocol, and to work with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.”

On Sunday, Mr Baker had told Conservative party members: “As one of the people who perhaps acted with the most determination to get the UK out of the EU, I think we have to bring some humility to this situation.

“And it’s with humility I want to accept and acknowledge that I and others did not always behave in a way that encouraged Ireland, the European Union and others to trust us to accept they have legitimate interests.

“Legitimate interests that we’re willing to respect because they do and we are willing to respect them.

“And I’m sorry about that because relations with Ireland are not where they should be and we all need to work extremely hard to improve them.”

Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin described the apology from Mr Baker over his previous stance on Brexit as “honest” and “very helpful”, while also welcoming the tone of his “upfront” comments.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna said: “Steve Baker’s words can provide a welcome change in atmosphere between the EU and UK this week, while Alliance MP Stephen Farry MP described the minister’s apology as “helpful”.

But the apology from the Northern Ireland minister and arch-Brexiteer has sparked a furious reaction among the loyalist community, who have suggested they could return to street protests.

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Activist Jamie Bryson, a key figure behind a series of anti-Northern Ireland Protocol rallies, told the Belfast Telegraph Mr Baker’s words raised “serious concerns as to the commitment of the government to get rid of the protocol”.

He said: “Protests were halted on the basis of express commitments — both public and private – to remove the protocol.

“Now those commitments are being expressed privately, but the public message is saying something else. Duplicity creates anger and risks causing instability. It’s plain that the stench of appeasement is in the air.

“The comments may also spark street demonstrations again because there will be untold anger at the hint of betrayal.

“If he wants to apologise to anyone, he should be apologising to the unionist community for putting upon us the Northern Ireland Protocol, which he voted for.”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said he had contacted Mr Baker by text message following his remarks at the Conservative Party conference on Sunday.

He added: “I would have much preferred he would have said to the Irish, ‘You’ve got to apologise for the way you abused Northern Ireland during those negotiations’. Mr Baker told me he believes that there should be a reciprocal apology.”

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