David Frost: UK 'considering options' on NI Protocol
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The Brexit minister warned the UK was making little progress in negotiations with Brussels over problems caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol. Britain has warned bureaucratic checks introduced on trade across the Irish Sea as part of the withdrawal agreement are having a negative impact on the UK’s internal market.
The introduction of a series of customs checks have been postponed until the end of September while the two sides discuss solutions to the problems caused.
But giving evidence to a House of Lords committee this afternoon, Lord Frost painted a bleak picture of the progress in negotiations.
“I think it’s fair to say there are probably 20 or more different strands to the outstanding problems. Some of them are quite fundamental,” he said.
“There’s quite a long list of those and I think it’s fair to say we haven’t made the progress we would really like to in moving any of those forward.”
Speaking to peers on the Ireland/Northern Ireland Sub-Committee, the minister warned the EU is refusing to engage with the UK in its attempts to find a solution.
He said: “The difficulty is at the moment the EU doesn’t want to work on the kind of agreement we are proposing.
“Quite recently, certainly last week, Maroš Šefčovič repeated that the best way forward was the Swiss-style alignment agreement.
“That’s the problem, it’s two different views.”
The EU has argued most customs checks could be scrapped if the UK agrees to voluntarily follow Brussels’ rules.
Britain has argued both sides should agree their regulations and food standards are similar enough there is no need for formal alignment.
Criticising the EU for repeatedly saying there was no alternative to the Protocol, Lord Frost warned the people of Northern Ireland have a vote on the scrapping of the mechanism in four years time.
He warned the European Commission: “There are alternatives and in passing I think the EU should be careful when they say there are no alternatives to the Protocol because that implies the consent vote, which is there in the Protocol, is a meaningless vote.
“If there’s no alternative to the Protocol, what is that vote about?
“Self evidently there are alternatives to it.”
Next week Lord Frost is preparing to make a speech to Parliament outlining the UK’s proposals to change the way the Protocol is currently being operated.
“We need to find a different way of managing the situation. The Protocol, as is, is not providing that,” he said this afternoon.
“I think what we need to do about it is find what we constantly talk about as the ‘new balance’ that needs to be created in operating the Protocol.”
While not giving details of the proposals set to be unveiled next week, the Brexit minister said the UK remained ready to tear up Protocol if the EU failed to engage in negotiations.
“The Protocol exists and we have a range of options to try and improve the way it works, but certainly all options are on the table, we have been clear about that and continue to be so,” he said.
“The protocol exists because there is a delicate balance in the Good Friday Agreement and because there are a lot of different interests and concerns that have to be satisfied through the Protocol.
“I think that means all sides need to works with a respectable and sensitivity.”
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