Lord Frost said the deal that he negotiated had “begun to come apart even more quickly than we feared”
Image: VICKIE FLORES/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
Britain’s Brexit Minister has drawn up legal plans to rewrite Boris Johnson’s EU exit deal only 10 months after it was signed.
Lord Frost warned Brussels that the UK “cannot wait forever” for a response to its concerns over the part of the deal that relates to Northern Ireland.
And he issued a threat trigger Article 16 – a part of the pact which allows either the UK or EU to temporarily abandon commitments made in the Brexit trade agreement.
The Tory peer said the deal that he negotiated had “begun to come apart even more quickly than we feared” – and it had lost the support of communities in Northern Ireland.
Addressing activists at the party conference in Manchester, he demanded an overhaul of the Northern Ireland Protocol – the mechanism Boris Johnson agreed, which effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU single market to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Lord Frost told grassroots members: “We can still solve these problems. I set out in July a set of proposals that would establish a new balance for a lasting future – and I will soon be sending a new set of legal texts to the EU to support them.”
But he added: “We cannot wait forever. Without an agreed solution soon, we will need to act, using the Article 16 safeguard mechanism, to address the impact the Protocol is having on Northern Ireland.
“That may in the end be the only way to protect our country – our people, our trade, our territorial integrity, the peace process, and the benefits of this great UK of which we are all part.”
The Protocol governs Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic – the UK’s only land frontier with the EU.
But the move creates a trade barrier in the Irish Sea for goods crossing from Great Britain – something the PM previously promised he would never agree to.
Unionists in the province say it splits the UK and British ministers are desperate for EU leaders to give ground as the deadline approaches.
But bloc chiefs say Mr Johnson should honour the agreement he made.
Lord Frost, who is due to deliver a major speech to the Centre for Brexit Policy think tank later, told the conference: “The Northern Ireland Protocol is not working and needs to change.
“Yes, we agreed the Protocol in that difficult autumn of 2019.
“We knew we were taking a risk – but a worthy one, in the cause of peace and protecting the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement. It was the right thing to do, it ended constitutional crisis, it meant our country could leave the EU, whole, free, and with real choices about the future.
“Of course we wanted to negotiate something better. If it had not been for the madness of the Surrender Act, we could have done so – and we worried right from the start that the Protocol would not take the strain if not handled sensitively.
“As it has turned out – we were right. The arrangements have begun to come apart even more quickly than we feared.
“Thanks to the EU’s heavy handed actions, cross-community political support for the Protocol has collapsed. The Protocol itself is now undermining the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.”
He told the EU “to be ambitious”, adding: “It’s no use tinkering around the edges. We need significant change.”
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh said: “Lord Frost negotiated every single word of the deal he now discredits at every opportunity.
“And as this speech proves, their approach is inflaming tensions while solving nothing.
“Communities in Northern Ireland are sick and tired of the political posturing from a government they have long since lost trust in.
“Tory Ministers should show some responsibility, and do what businesses across Northern Ireland have been telling them for months – get round the table and negotiate a veterinary agreement to help lower the barriers they created down the Irish Sea.”