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Lord Frost Tells EU The Northern Ireland Protocol Has Lost Consent And Threatens Peace Agreement

4 min read

Lord Frost has proposed a new protocol for Northern Ireland, arguing that existing arrangements negotiated by the UK government have lost consent and risk inflaming sectarian tensions.

Delivering a speech in Lisbon this afternoon, the Cabinet Office Minister, who oversees the UK's relationship with the EU, argued "the key feature of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement is balance" and "balance is being shredded by the way this Protocol is working". 

"The fundamental difficulty is that we are being asked to run a full-scale external boundary of the EU through the centre of our country, to apply EU law without consent in part of it, and to have any dispute on these arrangements settled in the court of one of the parties," Frost said.

"The way this is happening is disrupting ordinary lives, damaging large and small businesses, and causing serious turbulence to the institutions of the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement within Northern Ireland," he added.

The Northern Ireland Protocol, agreed as part of UK's Brexit deal with the EU, was designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, and came into effect at the beginning of this year.

But the UK government has since said they want to fundamentally renegotiate the treaty, arguing that it is causing an unacceptable level of disruption to trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Staunchly unionist politicians in the province also argue that it is an assault on their identity.

During his speech this afternoon, Lord Frost announced he has shared a "forward looking" new legal text with European Commission.

The proposed text "looks more like a normal Treaty in the way it is governed", with international arbitration, rather than the European Court of Justice holding jurisdiction in Northern Ireland. 

The EU has said it is prepared to make some changes to the Protocol and Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission Vice-President, is set to detail the bloc’s proposals tomorrow.

The question is whether the EU’s proposals go far enough to satisfy Frost, who as well as dramatically reducing the number of checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea also wants the role of the European Court of Justice in overseeing the Protocol to be scaled back significantly.

One Brussels source today told PoliticsHome that the proposals would be “really substantial” and that there was some surprise among EU officials by how far the package will go.

Brussels has been adamant that Boris Johnson knew what he signed up to when he agreed the Protocol and that it will not rewrite the treaty to the extent that the UK is demanding.

Frost outright rejecting the EU’s proposals tomorrow would signify that the UK government did not want a negotiated outcome, they added.

“If they refuse what we put on the table, it would clearly be a sign of bad faith. We are not entirely certain the UK government actually wants solutions,” the source told PoliticsHome.

Throughout his speech, Frost lamented the state of EU-UK relations in the post-Brexit world.

"We didn’t want it to be like this.  We just want friendly relations, free trade, and the chance to do things our own way, all within the framework of a meaningful and robust Western alliance," the minister said. 

"With this in mind, I do urge you to look at the image you are presenting to us. If there is a trust problem, as we are constantly told there is, it is not the responsibility of only one party.  

"At some point we must both try to raise our eyes to the horizon, look at the possibilities for better relations, and try to help each other solve problems, not create them."

Frost also doubled down on the UK's decision to implement a "hard Brexit" in the first place. 

"A hard Brexit, in its original sense of leaving the EU customs union and single market, was essential. It was the only form of Brexit that allowed us freedom to experiment and freedom to act," Frost said. 

Baroness Jenny Chapman, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Task Force Europe, accused Frost of effectively ripping up his own agreement on trade across the Irish Sea and urged the government to come to an arrangement that satisfied people on Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. 

"Contrary to moving on from Brexit, senior Tories appear desperate to use a tussle with Brussels to distract from their domestic failures – whether on Covid, the energy crisis, or the needless culling of thousands of pigs," she said. 

“The route to improving the Brexit deal is simple: secure a veterinary agreement to free up the movement of goods and take up the offer of a visa-waiver for workers across the creative industries. Why is Lord Frost insisting on wrapping businesses and performers in the red tape that his fellow Ministers claim to hate?”

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