Lord Frost: fixing NI Protocol 'top priority' but British divergence from EU is 'just beginning'

Tue 23 Nov 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

Lord Frost

Brexit minister Lord Frost has warned the EU that British plans to diverge from its rules were just starting. 

Frost told a conference at London’s Guildhall yesterday (Monday 22 November) that while fixing the Northern Ireland Protocol he negotiated last year was his “top priority”, he had a wider overview of trade policy.

'National necessity'

In his speech – delivered to a packed audience in the 6.30pm ‘graveyard slot’ at the Centre for Policy Studies’ Margaret Thatcher Conference on Trade – Frost said divergence from EU rules was a “national necessity”.

Frost said that “the project has already begun — though I would be the first to admit there is a lot more to do”.

The Cabinet minister said the UK needs to “reform fast, and those reforms are going to involve doing things differently from the EU,” adding: “If we stick to EU models, but behind our own tariff wall and with a smaller market, we obviously won’t succeed.”

New freedoms

However Frost added he would ensure policy was “consistent” with the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

“That is why I have the job I have – it’s about trying to ensure there’s consistency between what’s required by the agreements with the EU, by the FTAs [Free Trade Agreements] with other countries and find the programme of domestic reforms our new freedoms have made possible,” he said.   

Frost called for “free debate” and tax cuts, adding that the UK must not import the “European social model”.

‘Not before Christmas’

Earlier at the conference, international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan vowed that the UK would not trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol before Christmas.

Like many speakers at the conference, Trevelyan invoked Margaret Thatcher (UK prime minster 1979-90), saying that today’s trade challenges were “the same that faced Mrs Thatcher”.

Trevelyan listed these as:

  • protectionism that undermines global trade and growth
  • disruption to supply chains
  • uncertainty about the future of the global economy “caused by those long-term impacts of the pandemic, geopolitical shifts and the rapidly growing Indo-Pacific markets”.

Her full speech to the conference is here.

‘Reform fast’

In his wide-ranging speech, Lord Frost said the UK needs to “reform fast and those reforms are going to involve doing things differently from the EU. 

“When we discuss trade in this country, we must not forget that our most urgent and pressing problem, an issue of the highest national interest, is to make sure we can trade freely within our own country,” Frost said. “I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

'Be pragmatic towards the EU'

In an earlier conference session, on trade in services, the EU was highlighted as the UK's single biggest export market, accounting for more than half of UK service exports.

Asked if a "robust" UK-EU trade deal on services was possible, Catherine McGuinness, chair of the Policy & Resources Committee, City of London Corporation urged the UK to “show more pragmatism” in trade relations with the EU for “a positive relationship in the future”.

“Let’s focus on us being dependent on each other,” McGuinness said.