Britain to set out proposals to resolve NI protocol impasse, David Frost says

Brexit minister adopts more conciliatory tone than in Irish Times opinion article

British Brexit  minister David Frost has reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to the Northern Ireland protocol. File photograph: Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

British Brexit minister David Frost has reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to the Northern Ireland protocol. File photograph: Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

 

Britain will set out its proposals for resolving issues surrounding the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol within the next two weeks, UK Brexit minister David Frost has said.

Lord Frost told Policy Exchange, a right-wing think tank, that he wanted a “consensual approach” to dealing with the issues, but repeated his threat of unilateral action if the EU does not satisfy Britain’s demands in this regard.

“The current situation is not consistent with the careful balance in the Belfast Agreement and is not how the protocol should be working. That political reality must be acknowledged and dealt with. This government cannot simply ignore that reality and stand by as things become more tense and more difficult,” he said.

“We will always prefer a consensual approach to resolving this situation. We are confident, given everything we have been through in the last few years, that there are ways of finding the balance and finding the necessary adjustments.

“Working in this way is the responsible thing to do and it’s the best way to meet the government’s obligations to everyone in Northern Ireland. But obviously all options remain on the table.”

In response to the latest flare-up over the protocol, the EU agreed last week to postpone for a further three months the introduction of restrictions on chilled meats from Britain moving into Northern Ireland. The North must follow EU customs and food and product safety laws under the protocol, part of the EU-UK Brexit withdrawal agreement that gives the North a special trading status. But Lord Frost said he wanted a permanent solution that would ensure that consumers in the North could continue to access British products without difficulty.

“We are considering our next steps, we are discussing with all those with an interest, and I can say today that we will set out our approach to parliament in a considered way before the summer recess. The prize on offer for us all, if we can re-establish a new balance in a way that works for us all, is that we can set relations between the UK and the EU onto a new trajectory, one that moves beyond the current tensions, one that moves beyond the challenges of the last few years, and realises the real, genuine potential for friendly co-operation,” he said.

More conciliatory tone

Lord Frost was adopting a more conciliatory tone than in his joint opinion article with Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis in last Saturday’s Irish Times. During his comments on Thursday he stressed Britain’s commitment to the protocol and rejected the suggestion that the post-Brexit customs and regulatory border could be anywhere other than in the Irish Sea.

“There are no deadlines here. We’re not putting something on the table and saying take it or leave it, or you must work to this particular timetable through setting our approach out to parliament,” he said.

Mr Lewis said the impact of the protocol was being felt across communities in Northern Ireland and was distracting from the task of realising the North’s economic potential.

“Northern Ireland has real economic strengths and we should be focusing on how we can drive up innovation, close the skills gap, increase exports and seize the opportunities of the green industrial revolution. My vision for Northern Ireland is about building a shared and stable future for all people in Northern Ireland, harnessing the positive links between peace, security and prosperity,” he said.