Steve Baker was speaking for himself when he apologised for his “ferocious” stance on negotiations with the EU, the British prime minister has said.
orthern Ireland minister and arch-Brexiteer Mr Baker said on Sunday he and others did not “always behave in a way which encouraged Ireland and the EU to trust us to accept that they have legitimate interests”.
He also told the Conservative Party conference that London and Brussels could “get a deal which works for everyone” if they entered talks without pre-conditions and in a spirit of goodwill.
But Liz Truss said in an interview with 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.”
Ms Truss also said she wanted a settlement with the EU that “works for everybody”.
She added: “I would like to see the Assembly established and the Executive established. I see no reason why that cannot happen now.”
Asked if there would be an election if the power-sharing institutions were not restored by October 28, the prime minister replied, “Yes, there will”.
Loyalists have suggested they could return to street protests following Mr Baker’s apology.
Activist Jamie Bryson, a key figure behind a series of anti-Northern Ireland Protocol rallies, said Mr Baker’s words raised “serious concerns as to the commitment of the government to get rid of the protocol”.
He also said his comments had “enraged the loyalist and unionist community”.
“Protests were halted on the basis of express commitments — both public and private – to remove the protocol,” Mr Bryson added.
“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 contacted Mr Baker by text message following his remarks.
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.”
Taoiseach Micheál Martin described Mr Baker’s words as “honest” and “very helpful”.
SDLP MP Claire Hanna said: “Steve Baker’s words can provide a welcome change in atmosphere between the EU and UK this week.”
Alliance MP Stephen Farry MP described the minister’s apology as “helpful”.
European Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie confirmed the EU and UK would meet this week for talks.
He said that the EU would approach the negotiations “constructively”, and that the bloc remained “committed to finding joint solutions”.