THE UK Government will not delay the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill but allow the legislation to progress at a normal pace amid negotiations with the EU, the Foreign Secretary told MPs.

James Cleverly told the House of Commons that the government would not look to delay or accelerate the legislation. 

It follows reports in The Times that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had put the bill "on ice". 

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The bill intends to unilaterally override parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, signed only two years ago by the UK Government and the EU.

The EU have infringement proceedings against the UK underway for previous breaches, and if no solution to the row is found it could escalate into a trade war.

Cleverly said in the Commons that he told European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic “we would not either artificially accelerate that process or artificially hinder or retard that process”.

He was speaking during a session of questions to Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) ministers in the House, where he was also warned by DUP MP Ian Paisley that the “EU smells weakness in this government if they take their foot off the pedal”.

The National: Ian Paisley urged the UK Government to keep the bill on the tableIan Paisley urged the UK Government to keep the bill on the table

The protocol is aimed at avoiding a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, but it has introduced economic barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UK Government is seeking to change the current system, either with a negotiated compromise with the European Union or through the bill, which would empower ministers to scrap arrangements without the approval of Brussels.

In the Commons on Tuesday, Labour former minister Hilary Benn said: “We … read that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is on ice while the negotiations continue.

"Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that if an agreement with the EU is reached, and we all hope it will happen, that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will be dropped?”

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Cleverly replied: “The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill exists for a reason. The commitment that I made to Maros Sefcovic and the conversations that I had with him and with others is that we would not either artificially accelerate that process or artificially hinder or retard that process.

“We have always said that our preferred option is through negotiations. We speak regularly, the tone is positive and I think that there is now an understanding that the concerns that we have raised, and have been raised particularly by the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, are not confected, that they are real and that any agreement would need to address them.”

Paisley, the DUP for North Antrim, urged Cleverly not to take the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill off the table.

He said: “Does he not believe that the EU smells weakness in this Government if they take their foot off the pedal with regards to the Protocol Bill in the other place?

“I would encourage the Foreign Secretary to press on with the Protocol Bill.”

Elsewhere in the session, addressing an unrelated question, Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell said his department intends to establish a “centre of expertise to support democrat governance around the world”.

He told MPs: “Officials have assessed the merits of establishing an FCDO centre of expertise to support democratic governance around the world.

“Funding permitting, we fully intend to establish one to address the democratic deficit the world is facing.”