Lord Frost warns strained NI Protocol talks could undermine UK-EU relationship with grace periods ending soon
Lord Frost has warned that the strained talks over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol are “holding back the potential for a new era of cooperation” between the UK and EU.
The minister for EU relations broke his recent silence over the Protocol at a British-Irish Association event on Saturday, warning that a “cold mistrust” could be starting to take a hold of the negotiations.
The UK and EU have been mired in disagreement since the Protocol came into force in January.
Northern Ireland remains subject to the EU single market rules as the cost of avoiding a hard border in Ireland, but those rules have created disruption to trade between mainland Britain and the region.
The UK has been pushing for fewer customs checks in NI and negotiators have agreed not to apply rules on chilled meats until an already-extended deadline of 30 September, according to Politico.
Relations have been tense since Britain unilaterally suspended grace periods in March.
At the time, Brussels launched legal action against Britain over its refusal to fully implement the agreement. This action was paused in the hope for finding a new path to enacting the Protocol.
No Article 16 - yet
In his weekend speech, Frost said that Britain would not “sweep all the existing arrangements away” yet by triggering Article 16 of the agreement, although it remains an option.
“It is clear that the threshold for triggering Article 16 has been met and it is open to the UK government to take a range of safeguard measures on this basis. That is simply a statement of fact,” he said.
He maintained that “missteps” had been made and that the “valiant efforts, in hugely challenging circumstances in 2019 and then in 2020, did not find the right balance”.
“Despite our best attempts, the issue is not settled,” he added.
Protocol not settled
Frost reiterated the main points of the NI Command Paper he produced in July and its proposed new approach.
He highlighted three areas that Britain wants to change – the movement of goods into Northern Ireland, the standards for goods within Northern Ireland, and the governance arrangements for regulating them.
The Guardian reports that Frost was speaking at the conference the day after the Irish Taoiseach had said that unilateral moves by the UK would always be doomed to failure.
Talks over the implementation of the Protocol have continued over the summer but sources say engagement is “slow” and it is unlikely an agreement will be reached by 30 September, with talks set to run into winter.