Brexit: Frost warns EU proposals insufficient to prevent article 16

Brexit minister set for more talks over protocol disagreements during coming week

David Frost gives evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee in the British House of Commons, London, on Monday. Photograph: PA Wire

David Frost gives evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee in the British House of Commons, London, on Monday. Photograph: PA Wire

 

Britain’s Brexit minister has warned that the European Commission’s proposals to ease the impact of the Northern Ireland protocol do not go far enough to stop him unilaterally suspending part of the agreement by triggering article 16.

David Frost told the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee that the proposals, which would eliminate 80 per cent of checks on goods and cut paperwork by half, showed that the EU could change its own laws if necessary.

“The problem with them is that they don’t go far enough,” he said.

“I’m not sure they would quite deliver the kind of ambitious freeing-up of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that we want to see, but what we’re trying to test is whether they could find the basis to go further than what they have put on the table.

“That’s the kind of discussions we have been having and it has been quite constructive so far, but the gaps between us remain significant, and there is a lot of working through to go.”

Lord Frost was speaking ahead of the arrival in London of EU negotiators for a second week of talks on the protocol, which is expected to include a meeting between him and his counterpart, Maros Sefcovic.

There is no formal deadline for the end of the negotiations but Lord Frost said they were “an issue for this autumn, to be settled one way or the other”.

He rejected talk of a compromise over his demand that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should no longer be the arbiter of whether EU rules were being complied with in Northern Ireland under the terms of the protocol.

He said he was not interested in arrangements “which keep the court in by some other name” or at one remove.

“It’s highly unusual in an international treaty to have disputes settled in the court of one of the parties and that is the fundamental principle that we take into this, and the fundamental thing we need to remove from the arrangements going forward,” he said.

Lord Frost said the threshold for using article 16 to suspend parts of the protocol had already been reached, although he declined to say which elements of the agreement he would suspend if the current negotiations failed.

‘Better for stability’

“It would be much better for stability, prosperity and certainty for everybody in Northern Ireland if we could reach an ambitious agreement with the EU that dealt with the problem because then we could move on and everyone would know where they stand. I’m still focusing on that,” he said.

“As we have said, we think the test for using article 16 is passed but we would still like to come to an agreed arrangement if we can, and that is what we are trying to do.”

The House of Lords sub-committee on the protocol wrote to Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis on Wednesday to warn against losing sight of the agreement’s human rights and equality protections.

Article 2 of the protocol commits the British government to ensuring no lowering of the rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity provided by the Belfast Agreement, which were underpinned by EU obligations.

The sub-committee’s chairman, Michael Jay, said the government should make a public commitment to upholding those rights no matter how the current negotiations ended.

“Discussions about the protocol have been dominated by trade, which has meant that the important issue of human rights and equality protections, protected under article 2, have been overlooked,” he said.

“But the government must not lose sight of article 2 and of the importance of ensuring that the rights of women, disabled people, older people and people from different communities are protected.”