NI protocol ‘not sustainable for long’, says UK cabinet minister

David Frost, who negotiated the protocol, says UK will ‘consider all options’

David Frost. Photograph: Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty

David Frost. Photograph: Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty

 

David Frost, the British cabinet minister in charge of relations with the European Union, has warned that the current operation of the Northern Ireland protocol is not sustainable for long. And in a hint at further unilateral action, he said Britain would “continue to consider all our options”.

Mr Frost has spent two days in Northern Ireland meeting businesses in a number of sectors affected by the new arrangements, including manufacturing, food and drink, retail, aerospace and life sciences.

“It’s clear from my visit that the protocol is presenting significant challenges for many in Northern Ireland,” he said. “Businesses have gone to extraordinary efforts to make the current requirements work, but it is hard to see that the way the protocol is currently operating can be sustainable for long. We’re committed to working through the issues with the EU urgently and in good faith. I hope they will take a common sense, risk-based approach that enables us to agree a pragmatic way forward that substantially eases the burdens on Northern Ireland.”

“Solutions must be found rapidly in order to protect the Belfast Agreement in all its dimensions and to minimise disruption to the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland – as the protocol itself requires. As the prime minister has made clear, we will continue to consider all our options in meeting our overriding responsibility for sustaining the peace and prosperity of everyone in Northern Ireland.”

Signs of progress

Mr Frost’s first action on taking up his post earlier this year was to unilaterally extend grace periods for some checks and procedures introduced by the protocol for goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland. The European Commission has taken legal action in response to the move but there were signs of progress in recent weeks as Mr Frost and commission vice-president Maros Sevcovic sought agreement on how to ease the bureaucratic burden on businesses without risking the integrity of the EU single market.

Mr Frost, who negotiated the protocol, has been pressing for a “data-driven” approach that would determine how goods should be checked on the basis of the real risk that they will move from Northern Ireland into the EU. The EU side complains that Britain has yet to fulfil some of its obligations under the protocol, and London’s unilateral moves have diminished confidence in its commitments, both in Dublin and London.