Brexit: Coalition reaffirms position in wake of Frost resignation

Government has ‘tried to ... build relationships’ during numerous British personnel changes

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar noted a ‘dramatic’ increase in cross-Border trade as ‘clear’ evidence the NI protocol is working.

The Tánaiste has said the Government will "try to work with whoever's there" following the appointment of British foreign secretary Liz Truss as the UK's chief Brexit negotiator with the EU.

Previous incumbent David Frost resigned at the weekend. He cited “concerns over the current direction of travel” of the British government.

Leo Varadkar said the Government had "tried to work with whoever is in those key positions, to build relationships" during numerous British personnel changes. "Liz Truss is Simon Coveney's counterpart, he'd be known to her, so that work has already started I suppose."

Speaking at an event hosted by IDA Ireland on Monday, Mr Varadkar said the "dramatic" increase in cross-Border trade and UK figures demonstrating that the North's economy is outperforming the rest of the UK made it "clear" the Northern Ireland protocol is working.


Protocol ‘isn’t perfect’

However he acknowledged the protocol "isn't perfect. And we're very keen to work with the European Union, secretary Truss and the UK government on ironing out some of the problems that have arisen, particularly when it comes to goods going from Great Britain into Northern Ireland."

The North’s access to the UK and European single markets is, he said, potentially a “huge selling point to attract FDI [foreign direct investment] into Northern Ireland”. But he warned “the uncertainty around the protocol doesn’t help . . . so as soon as we can get to a point of certainty, the better.”

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster on Monday, Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he had not been made aware of Lord Frost's resignation in advance. But from conversations they had had he felt he was "concerned" over the "substantial gap" between the EU and UK in negotiations and "that we were fast approaching the time when the UK government needed to take unilateral action".

He said it “harms the [UK] government’s position when you lose your chief negotiator in these circumstances. And I think that the prime minister needs to get to grips with this issue”. Mr Donaldson called for a “much sharper focus now on getting this sorted out”.

Mr Donaldson said the British prime minister would be faced with a "choice . . . very early in the new year" and warned Boris Johnson "it is time for you to act". The DUP leader has repeatedly threatened to collapse the powersharing institutions by withdrawing his Ministers from Stormont unless satisfactory progress is made and the Irish Sea border removed.

Cross-Border political meetings

Separately on Monday a High Court judge said DUP Ministers who are boycotting cross-Border political meetings as part of a protest against the Northern Ireland protocol are in "abject breach of their solemn pledge". But Mr Justice Scoffield declined to make any order mandating the Ministers to set a date and agenda for the next meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council.

Belfast businessman Seán Napier has already secured a court judgment that declared the DUP boycott as unlawful. – Additional reporting (PA)

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times