Lord Frost has issued an ultimatum to the European Union, demanding that the Northern Ireland Protocol be addressed immediately. Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade arrangements have remained a major sticking point between the two parties.
The Protocol was included in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit divorce agreement with the European Union. The UK wants substantial portions of the protocol to be completely reformed, but the EU is reluctant to renegotiate it.
Now, Lord Frost, the UK’s Brexit minister, has cautioned the EU that the remaining concerns “need to be dealt with urgently” and encouraged Brussels to respond to a “Command Paper” published in July.
“The Protocol is clearly having a continued negative effect on everyday life & business in Northern Ireland,” he remarked on Twitter.
“The outstanding issues now need to be dealt with urgently.”
“I and my team are in contact with the EU daily, but we need a full response to our July Command Paper soon.”
Under the Protocol, the United Kingdom committed to maintain some EU rules in Northern Ireland and allow checks on goods arriving from other parts of the United Kingdom. This was done in order to maintain Ireland’s open land border with the rest of the EU.
However, the trade agreement has effectively created a border in the Irish Sea, which businesses are increasingly warning will significantly impact trade. Pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland have also been enraged by the Protocol, which they feel separates them from the rest of the UK.
This has raised concerns about a return to the sectarian violence that ravaged the region for three decades.
Lord Frost presented a “command brief” describing suggested Protocol amendments in July. They included being more lenient with customs procedures, removing the European Court of Justice as the Protocol’s arbiter, and abolishing requirements for Northern Ireland goods to comply with EU regulations if they comply with British legislation.
While the UK believes the criteria for invoking Article 16 have been met and that the Protocol in its existing form is no longer a feasible alternative, the Brexit minister instead asked for the Protocol to be revised.
If Article 16 is triggered, either party can opt-out of the terms if they are proving to be unreasonably damaging.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, was quick to respond: “The EU will continue to be creative and flexible within the Protocol framework. But we will not renegotiate.”