NI protocol to keep UK-EU relationship ‘a bit bumpy’, says Frost
British minister insists London seeking ‘calm and stability in Northern Ireland’
UK Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost: “What we would like to see is an equivalence arrangement which reflects the fact that we both operate high food standards.” Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty
David Frost, the British minister responsible for relations with the European Union, has predicted that the relationship will be “a bit bumpy for some months” as the two sides work through issues around the Northern Ireland protocol.
Lord Frost caused alarm in Dublin this week by linking the timetable for progress in the talks with the start of the marching season in the North but he insisted that the British government wanted to calm tensions.
“We have absolutely no interest in seeing anything other than calm and stability in Northern Ireland,” he said.
Giving evidence before the House of Lords European Affairs committee, Lord Frost said there were up to 30 issues surrounding the protocol that had to be worked through.
“The operation of the protocol since the start of the year has thrown up quite a lot of issues of various kinds, all of which we’re trying to discuss with the EU. There’s certainly 20 or 30 on the list and we’re making some limited progress on some of those. Some of them are important without being absolutely fundamental to the way the protocol works,” he said.
Lord Frost has warned that the protocol is unsustainable as it is currently operated and the two sides have been in technical talks about how to reduce the number of checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. But he ruled out a veterinary agreement that would see Britain temporarily align with EU food safety standards until London wanted to leave the arrangement because of a trade deal with another country.
“What we would like to see is an equivalence arrangement which reflects the fact that we both operate high food standards which are in most areas extremely similar and which should allow for reduced paperwork and checks. The EU has agreed such processes with New Zealand and Canada.
“There are such provisions in a number – I believe half a dozen or so – other recent FTAs [free trade agreements] the EU has reached. Unfortunately not with us, and the EU didn’t want to include an equivalence mechanism last year but if they would like to, we’d be very happy to pick up negotiations again,” he said.
Fear by farmers
British farming leaders have warned Boris Johnson’s government against agreeing a zero-tariff free trade deal with Australia and New Zealand that could undercut British producers. National farmers union president Minette Batters said the trade-off between gaining access to new markets and protecting British farmers must be a balanced one.
“The British government faces a choice. It must recognise that opening up zero tariff trade on all imports of products such as beef and lamb means British farming, working to its current high standards, will struggle to compete,” she said.
“Does government lower standards here, which it says it won’t and a million people who signed our petition don’t want to see, or will it watch family farms go out of business when they are unable to compete?”