Dublin alarm at Britain’s Brexit chief’s NI protocol manoeuvring

David Frost’s sabre rattling comes as DUP signal a more realistic approach to protocol

In his appearance before MPs at Westminster on Monday, Britain's Brexit minister David Frost was warm in his praise for Maros Sevcovic, his EU opposite number in negotiations about the Northern Ireland protocol.

If it was left to the two of them, he suggested, they would find a way forward which would implement the protocol in a way that satisfied everyone.

“But I think obviously Maros has to operate within a mandate that is set by the wider commission and other member states, not all of which understand Northern Ireland as well as he now does. And I think that’s one of the reasons we’re finding difficulty in moving this forward,” he said.

If Frost hopes to engage the sympathy of the member state which understands Northern Ireland best, he has chosen an unorthodox way to go about it.

The Irish Government was alarmed by weekend briefings from sources close to Frost identifying July 12th as a deadline for agreement on how to implement the protocol. This follows the British minister's meeting in Belfast last week with a delegation from the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), which included representatives of paramilitary groups.

Technical solutions

Frost repeated the linkage between the negotiating timetable and the North’s marching season to the MPs on Monday, although he said it was not a hard deadline.

The European Commission dismissed Frost's posturing, saying it would continue to work on technical solutions in negotiations with Britain.

"The various unhelpful comments in the press will not prevent us from doing so. Our focus is on making the protocol work for the people of Northern Ireland, and across the island of Ireland," said commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie. "Only joint solutions, agreed in the joint bodies established by the withdrawal agreement, can provide the stability and predictability that people and businesses need to take advantage of the opportunities of the protocol."

Although Frost warned the MPs the protocol had created “a degree of unsettledness” in Northern Ireland, it is his own rhetoric and his allies’ briefings that are most unsettling as far as Dublin is concerned.

Frost’s latest bout of sabre rattling, which also included a renewed threat to trigger article 16 of the protocol, came as the DUP signalled a more a realistic approach to the protocol.

Christopher Salford, an ally of incoming DUP leader Edwin Poots, told the BBC there were only three ways to get rid of the protocol: persuading Boris Johnson to scrap it; winning a legal action against it; or winning a unionist majority in next year's Assembly elections.