UK’s EU negotiator damaging North’s economy by ‘picking fights’ – O’Toole

SDLP’s Brexit spokesman says Frost’s attempts to unpick NI protocol risking investment

Britain’s chief European Union negotiator said Britain’s new relationship with the EU ‘won’t be right’ until problems arising out of the protocol are settled. Photograph: Aris OIkonomou/AFP via Getty

Britain’s chief European Union negotiator said Britain’s new relationship with the EU ‘won’t be right’ until problems arising out of the protocol are settled. Photograph: Aris OIkonomou/AFP via Getty

 

Britain’s chief European Union negotiator has been accused of damaging the North’s economy by “picking fights” with Brussels over the Brexit deal that he helped secure.

David Frost, London’s cabinet minister in charge of relations with the EU, is risking inward investment in the region through his attempts to unpick the Northern Ireland protocol, said the SDLP’s Brexit spokesman Matthew O’Toole.

Mr Frost, writing in the Mail on Sunday, said Britain’s new relationship with the EU “won’t be right” until problems arising out of the protocol, which his government brokered with Brussels, are settled.

The clause, which puts a de facto trade border for some goods in the Irish Sea, is a “huge improvement”on the previous “backstop” solution to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, and its fundamental aims are “worthy ones”, Mr Frost wrote.

These included protecting the Good Friday Agreement, keeping borders and trade open and minimising disruption to everyday life in the North.

But he said it is “perfectly possible to deliver those aims while at the same time protecting the EU’s single market – but not in the way the protocol is currently operating.”

‘No evidence’

Referring to reports of small UK-based suppliers declining to send products to the North as it was “too difficult and time consuming to deal with the paperwork”, Mr Frost said it means less choice for consumers.

“Yet there is no evidence that goods not meeting EU standards are getting to the EU’s single market via Northern Ireland,” he said.

All the paperwork and checks involved are to “deal with a risk that does not exist”.

“The EU takes a very purist view of all of this,” he wrote.

“It seems to want to treat goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK in the same way as the arrival of a vast Chinese container ship in Rotterdam.”

Mr Frost insisted the British government “did not anticipate this when we agreed the protocol and it makes no sense,” further warning that it was making unionism “anxious” and “political stability is at risk”.

“The EU needs, rapidly, to find a new approach and new solutions”, he said, urging the bloc to “stop the point scoring and work with us”.

But Mr O’Toole, who is also the SDLP’s finance spokesman, said Mr Frost’s efforts to “deflect ownership of the Brexit deal he negotiated” is risking inward investment through the North’s access to both the British and EU markets, under the protocol.

“Lord Frost seems to see personal or political advantage in continuing to pick fights with Brussels,” he said.

“He cares little about the consequences of deflecting blame for the deal he negotiated, which is clearly pathetic on its own terms, but more importantly it is destabilising to our politics and damaging to our economy. ”

Mr O’Toole said “Frost should be focused on making this deal – his deal – work.”

“That means resolving practical issues pragmatically – such as via EU-UK alignment on veterinary standards – as well as ensuring we benefit from the potential economic opportunity offered by dual market access under the Northern Ireland protocol,” he said.

“It is truly depressing but unsurprising that those who have shouted loudest for the hardest Brexit, whether Lord Frost or Edwin Poots, have been quickest to run away from its consequences.”