UK ‘will need to act’ if EU fails to address NI concerns, Frost warns

Unionist party leaders say triggering Article 16 of Northern Ireland protocol would not resolve issues

Brexit minister David Frost has repeated his threat to unilaterally suspend parts of the Northern Ireland protocol by triggering Article 16 unless the European Union agrees to sweeping changes Britain called for last July.

But the leaders of Northern Ireland’s three unionist parties told a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in Manchester that triggering Article 16 would not be enough to resolve the protocol’s problems.

"Triggering Article 16 has its use in the short term but what we require in order to restore Northern Ireland's place fully within the United Kingdom is UK legislation to do it," DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said.

The European Union has agreed to consider changes in how the protocol is implemented without reopening the agreement but Lord Frost told the party conference in Manchester that there must be significant change.


“It’s no use tinkering around the edges.  We need significant change. If we can agree something better, we can get back to where we wanted to be – an independent Britain with friendly relations with the EU based on free trade,” he said.

"Without an agreed solution soon, we will need to act, using the Article 16 safeguard mechanism, to address the impact the protocol is having on Northern Ireland. "

Sir Jeffrey appeared alongside UUP leader Doug Beattie and TUV leader Jim Allister at a meeting calling for an end to the protocol. Former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble and former Labour MP Kate Hoey were also on the platform.

‘Short-term fix’

Mr Beattie said Article 16 only allowed for the suspension of individual parts of the protocol for specific reasons. “It’s a narrow instrument and it won’t fix the wider problems that we have. It’s not a solution, it’s a negotiation,” he said.

Mr Allister agreed that triggering Article 16, which itself triggers a fresh period of negotiations between Britain and the EU, would not deal with unionists’ fundamental objection to the protocol.

“Article 16 is a short-term fix. It doesn’t offer a long-term solution. The long-term solution is repudiation and the only route to that is the EU being willing to give up its sovereignty over Northern Ireland. And if it doesn’t give it up, the UK government is under a bounden duty to take it back,” he said.

Sir Jeffrey has threatened to withdraw DUP ministers from the Northern Ireland Executive if major changes to the protocol are not agreed within the next few weeks. He said that nothing short of repudiating the agreement would be enough to satisfy unionists.

"The three unionist leaders, along with the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party signed a declaration last week and the word that was used was repudiate. That is very clear and all of us stand on that ground," he said.

Lord Frost said he will send the EU new legal texts to support his proposed changes to the protocol, which would eliminate most checks and certification requirements on goods made in Great Britain, introduce a dual regulation system for goods circulating in Northern Ireland, and remove the enforcement role of the European courts.

Labour's shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh accused Lord Frost of inflaming tensions by discrediting a deal he had himself negotiated.

“Tory Ministers should show some responsibility, and do what businesses across Northern Ireland have been telling them for months - get round the table and negotiate a veterinary agreement to help lower the barriers they created down the Irish Sea,” she said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times