Tue, 26 October 2021

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By David Lidington and Stephen Hammond MP
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Lord Frost Insists "Tough" Approach To Northern Ireland Is Not For "Electoral Reasons"

Lord Frost Insists 'Tough' Approach To Northern Ireland Is Not For 'Electoral Reasons'
3 min read

Lord Frost has denied the government are "playing to the gallery" after he threatened to ditch the Northern Ireland protocol.

The government's chief Brexit negotiator has warned the EU that the UK "cannot wait for ever" to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol and claimed ministers could invoke the emergency Article 16 clause which would suspend the agreement.

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on Monday, Lord Frost said the deal, which he negoatiated, had started "to come apart" and needed to be rewritten because it risked the UK's "territorial integrity".

"We need significant change. If we can agree something better, we can get back to where we wanted to be - an independent Britain with friendly relations with the EU based on free trade," he said in his main conference speech.

"But we cannot wait forever. Without an agreed solution soon, we will need to act, using Article 16 safeguard mechanism, to address the impact the protocol is having on Northern Ireland."

The EU has refused to engage with the demands from London, with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic saying earlier this year: "We will not agree to a renegotiation of the protocol. Respecting international legal obligations is of paramount importance."

But speaking at a fringe event on Monday afternoon, Frost urged the bloc to engage in "good faith" talks around the protocol, denying the threats to invoke Article 16 were for "electoral reasons".

"We are not interested, although some people to think we are, we are not interested in endless bad relations with Europe. That was not the point of Brexit," he said.

"It is a disappointment that for a mix of reasons we are not there yet. We are not doing what we are doing for electoral reasons. There is a sense that some people have that we are playing to the gallery by taking a tough position on various things, whether it is fish or Northern Ireland.

"This is not about whipping up an anti-EU mentality in any way. I think that would be an incredibly irresponsible thing to do given that particular context."

Also speaking at the event, Arlene Foster, the former First Minister of Northern Ireland, urged ministers to press ahead with invoking Article 16, saying the current protocol arrangements were causing "real and tangible damage" to the economy and warned the country's "equilibrium" had been "greatly disturbed" by the agreement.

"I acknowledge that David [Frost] and his team want to get to a negotiated agreement, but time is running out. The European Union have known now for a considerable period of time that there are difficulties in Northern Ireland, they haven't acknowledged those difficulties...

"It is almost as if the European Union is punishing the UK for having the temerity to leave and also send a message to other countries about what will happen if you leave the European Union.

She added: "It is not a pretty picture at the moment, I commend Lord Frost for his efforts to find a way forward in relation to this issue, but I also say very clearly that the circumstances are there, and have been there throughout the year, to trigger Article 16 so why are we waiting?"

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