Frost accuses Dublin of ‘disrupting the balance’ in Northern Ireland

Former Brexit negotiator for UK says Belfast Agreement under threat as a result

David Frost said he was surprised the EU was resisting British demands to thoroughly renegotiate the protocol. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty

The UK's former Brexit negotiator, David Frost, has accused the Irish Government of "disrupting the balance" in Northern Ireland and claimed that the Belfast Agreement was on life support.

Mr Frost said that at crucial moments over the past five years, Ireland had prioritised protecting the European single market over working collaboratively with Britain on Northern Ireland.

“It fears being cut off from the single market itself and it recognises it must maintain influence in the EU. I hope Ireland feels it got good value from the EU for acting like this. It doesn’t look 100 per cent clear to me that it always does, and certainly its negotiating capital on this subject seems close to exhausted,” he told right-wing think tank Policy Exchange.

“We should ourselves of course continue to try to work constructively with Ireland bilaterally. But I would like to see Ireland acting in the same spirit, not disrupting the balance in Northern Ireland by constantly using vague and destabilising language about tectonic shifts in the North, where they’re talking the supposed all-Ireland economy.”


The UK government is considering introducing legislation that would unilaterally disapply large parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, including the clauses that require the North to follow EU single market rules. Mr Frost said he was surprised the EU was resisting British demands to thoroughly renegotiate the protocol, adding that if the agreement could not be improved through negotiation, Britain should act unilaterally.

“It would be entirely reasonable, in my view, for the government to act unilaterally to over-ride key elements of the protocol in domestic law. In so doing, it would be safeguarding its higher obligation to the Belfast Agreement,” he said.

“I personally do not believe that acting against protocol should raise or need raise any issues of wider UK compliance with international law. On the wider issues, our track record speaks for itself. The UK is one of the most outspoken advocates of an international system based on agreed rules.”

Ukraine war

Mr Frost suggested that Britain should leverage its role in the war in Ukraine to persuade EU member states such as Poland and the Baltic countries to block retaliatory action from Brussels.

“The UK’s relationship with Poland, the Balt[ic]s and others in central and eastern Europe has become a huge and important element in managing the ongoing crisis,” he said. “It may be that some member states who in the past would have been content to tuck in behind the [European] Commission and the France-Germany axis in imposing trade sanctions on the UK for taking action on protocol, maybe they will no longer be able to do so. Maybe they’ll see doing so as entirely self-defeating and I think they’d be right if they thought that.”

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, prime minister Boris Johnson told DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson that the UK government was working on how to change the protocol. “There is clearly an economic cost to the protocol. That is also now turning into a political problem and an imbalance in sentiment about it. We need to rectify that balance for the sake of the Good Friday Agreement, on which this country depends,” he said.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is to visit Washington DC on Thursday for a series of meetings with senior Biden administration figures, during which he is expected to push back against recent British interventions on the Northern Ireland protocol.

Mr Frost’s remarks were greeted in Dublin with disdain, but there is worry that the UK government is reopening wounds on the protocol in advance of the elections in Northern Ireland next week.

A spokesman for Mr Coveney said: “The EU remains fully committed to working with the UK to find pragmatic solutions for genuine issues raised by people and businesses in Northern Ireland on the working of the deal the UK government negotiated in partnership with the EU, following the chaos caused by Brexit.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times