David Frost defends handling of Northern Ireland protocol negotiations

Brexit minister hopes European Commission will go further than last week’s proposals

 Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP

Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP

 

Brexit minister David Frost has defended his handling of negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol against criticism from all parties in the House of Lords, hailing the fact that the European Union is now willing to change its own laws as they apply in Northern Ireland. But he said he hoped the European Commission would go further than the proposals it put on the table last week.

“My team has been in discussion with the EU on this subject all week. We are seeking to understand the detail that underlies some of the headline claims that the EU has made. It is possible that we do not fully understand that detail yet, but perhaps that will come. One aspect of the EU proposals that I am excited about is that they show that what previously it has considered impossible-changing its own laws for the special circumstances of Northern Ireland-is now possible,” he said.

Lord Frost was answering questions on the protocol in a stormy debate in the House of Lords that saw former politicians, officials and diplomats accuse him of harming Britain’s international reputation by threatening to renege on an agreement he signed last year. Roger Liddle, who was former Labour prime minister Tony Blair’s adviser on Europe, questioned Lord Frost’s assertion in Lisbon last week that the protocol represented “a moment of EU overreach” when Britain’s negotiating hand was tied.

“Is it not the case that the Johnson government, on the minister’s recommendation, accepted an arrangement that Theresa May said no British prime minister would ever accept; that the Johnson government, presumably on the minister’s recommendation, decided to prioritise a hard Brexit over the sustainability of the Good Friday agreement and peace and security in Northern Ireland; and that the Johnson government, perhaps on the minister’s recommendation, signed a treaty in the full knowledge that they had no intention of implementing its full provisions? Is it not about time that the minister accepted some personal responsibility for the mess we are in in Ireland?” Lord Liddle said.

Lord Frost said he had hoped the protocol would work but accused the EU of failing to handle it sensitively. He dismissed a report in the New York Times this week about US president Joe Biden’s concern about Britain’s stance on the protocol and denied that he was complacent about Britain’s reputation.

“I am of course in no way unmindful-quite the opposite-of our international reputation but, in the end, I cannot do anything about how others perceive us,” he said.

“I am not complacent about things that are in our hands, which is the situation in Northern Ireland. I am in no way complacent about that and it is the focus of the activity we are trying to pursue. This government are responsible for the prosperity and security of Northern Ireland. That is why we are pursuing the task as we are and that, along with the support of the Good Friday agreement, is our primary objective as we go forward.”