THE Foreign Office is facing Brexit red tape as it recruits a key new member of staff for a "high profile" remit in Brussels, The Herald can reveal.

Liz Truss's department has advertised for a civil servant to work on the Northern Ireland protocol with the remit also described as "interesting and politically sensitive".

The protocol has been fiercely attacked by Unionist leaders in the region who argue it separates off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK as it requires customs checks on some goods. Last week it triggered the resignation of Stormont's DUP First Minister Paul Givan.

The £43,759 a year desk officer is now being brought in to do "outreach and diplomacy work" on the issue around Brussels and report on complex issues to senior staff in Brussels and London, as well as support ministers, ambassadors and senior officials with engagements.

However, the Brexit agreement removed freedom of movement meaning UK citizens no longer have the right to live and work in the European Union.

It means that any successful applicant from the UK (unless they also hold citizenship of an EU country) would have to obtain a visa to work in the Belgium capital. The requirement is set out in the government advert.

"Visa/work permit requirements. Candidates must currently hold the independent right to live and work in Belgium and be prepared to ensure that right remains throughout the scope of the contract. Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you meet the legal requirements to live and work in this country," it said.

Alyn Smith, the SNP MP and former MEP, said: "I welcome the news of this desk officer role on the Northern Ireland protocol, though it seems curious that they are only appointing someone now rather than five years ago when the problems could have been fixed.

"But it saddens me that this could have been a straightforward appointment under freedom of movement, because our freedom of movement rights have been taken away there is an extra paper chase that anybody from anywhere in the UK will have to go through to live, work, study across the EU.

"It is more paperwork, more red tape, less of an incentive to work across our continent and ultimately will lead to the EU being less part of the European mainstream and that means we all lose."

The new role is to be based in the office of the UK Mission to the European Union (UKMIS) in Brussels which is a part of a world-wide network of 270 Diplomatic Posts, representing British political, economic and consular interests overseas.

The Northern Ireland protocol was agreed as part of the UK–EU Withdrawal Agreement that formally took the UK out of the EU. Its purpose is to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, by requiring Northern Ireland (NI) to align with EU law in some areas, and allowing it to maintain frictionless access to the EU. However, it also means that goods entering NI from Great Britain (GB) need to prove they comply with EU law in these areas.

In July 2021, the UK government published a command paper setting out proposals to replace the protocol. Then in October, the EU responded with its own proposals.

Later that month, the two sides entered intensive discussion in the UK–EU Joint Committee with an initial aim to reach an agreement before Christmas but no agreement was reached.

In December, the UK co-chair of the Joint Committee (and cabinet minister in charge or UK–EU relations), Lord Frost, resigned from the UK government, and the Foreign Secretary was given responsibility for the protocol.

In a joint statement, Truss and the EU’s Co-Chair, Maroš Šefčovič, said their first meeting took place in a “cordial atmosphere”, but Truss said that the UK's position on the protocol has not changed, and discussions remain ongoing.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office were approached for comment.