Frost re-enters NI Protocol fray by urging it to be scrapped – while Sefcovic talks up UK as EU ally

Wed 16 Mar 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

lord frost

Former Brexit minister Lord Frost has said that the Tories should make scrapping the Northern Ireland Protocol a manifesto commitment at the next general election if the EU won’t renegotiate.

Delivering a speech in Switzerland, Frost called the protocol “temporary” and “not realistic”, adding: “If the protocol isn’t redone, then the poison between us will remain.”

Frost, who quit his Brexit negotiating position in December, said making the manifesto commitment would prevent the House of Lords blocking the triggering of Article 16, reports the Telegraph.

‘Paperwork is the price’

He also called on those who were focused on the short-term costs of Brexit, to look at the bigger picture.

“If the integrity of our national democracy requires a bit more paperwork at the borders, then I am ready to pay that price,” he said. “In the medium-term, the value of being in a successful democracy far outweighs it.”

Some commentators have taken issue with assertions in Lord Frost’s speech, in particular that the protocol was “imposed upon us” when parliament voted on it as part of the EU Withdrawal Agreement in late 2019 and early 2020. FT journalist Peter Foster tweeted that the ‘imposition’ claim was “nonsense”.

‘EU is UK’s natural ally’

The Express reports more conciliatory remarks from Frost on working with the EU over Ukraine, saying there was a “need to recognise that the EU is a natural ally of the United Kingdom, and that we should seek – as sovereign equals – ways to cooperate and work together more”.

In 2024 the Northern Ireland Assembly will hold a “consent vote” on the protocol, which can be suspended if it does not have the support of representatives in the province.

Article 16 triggering on hold

As previously covered in the IOE&IT’s Daily Update, foreign secretary Liz Truss, who took over from Frost on Brexit negotiations, has put vows to trigger Article 16 on hold while the UK collaborates with the EU on the Ukraine crisis. 

However, this has angered the right wing of the Tory party, which increasingly wonders if Boris Johnson will ever trigger Article 16 as he has threatened, reports the Spectator.

The window for doing so is narrowing and would need to be in the next few weeks before campaigning gets properly underway for the Northern Irish elections.

With Ukraine demanding much government bandwidth and cooperation with the EU, this seems unlikely.

Washington talks

Europe’s Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic is using the pause in protocol talks to visit Washington this week to discuss plans for the EU to wean itself off Russian gas and oil supplies.

There, the European Commission vice president told Politico that the crisis demonstrated how much Europe had in common with the UK, saying they were “staunch allies”.

“It was very symbolic that my counterpart, the foreign secretary, attended the session of foreign ministers of the EU. We’re actually even coordinating our next steps. This is exactly what we wanted from the beginning — that despite Brexit we are first and foremost neighbours, partners, allies, and we should really put it in the in the proper perspective,” he said.

Also speaking to Politico, US congressman Brendan Boyle, the head of the EU Caucus on Capitol Hill, said that he does not envisage much progress on the protocol talks before Northern Ireland’s election on May 5.

“After the election, depending on what the results will be, I am optimistic that we can finally see progress,” he said.