The Brexit minister was speaking in Lisbon the day before Maros Sefkovic outlined the EU’s more conciliatory approach to the Irish Sea border.
Brussels has moved substantially to reduce the impact of the protocol (although as Owen Polley writes on page 19, it has done nothing to address the underlying constitutional problems, see link below), so it seems clear that London’s harder line has produced some results.
(Incidentally, why are the Stormont politicians who called for rigorous implementation of the protocol, ie not only the existing checks but the full panoply of checks that were due to come in but now never will, not being ruthlessly grilled in NI media broadcasts? I remember five years of relentless, aggressive questioning of Brexiteers for their supposed mis-steps and mis-judgements).
The first striking Lord Frost paragraph was: ‘The key feature of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement is balance - between different communities and between their links with the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. That balance is being shredded by the way this Protocol is working’
Barely perceptibly to people who do not follow politics closely, the UK has begun to emphasise the Belfast Agreement in its totality. This is code for what unionists is its central feature — keeping NI in the UK so long as that constitutional status has consent in NI.
Also, that the 1998 deal enshrined a set of relations in Ireland and Britain, north-south as well as east-west, and that the protocol wrecks the latter.
When Boris Johnson appeared to agree with President Joe Biden’s concern about threats to the Belfast Agreement in their recent White House meeting, the prime minister was in fact nodding to that broader point. Mr Johnson said “we absolutely all want ... to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground”.
There is not common ground on that. It took unionists a while to emphasise the importance of the agreement, as nationalist Ireland has done since the 2016 Brexit vote.
In part this is because of unionist unease at the Belfast agreement, which all the DUP opposed, which Jim Allister also did, and which a large minority of David Trimble’s Ulster Unionist Party did too.
Now unionists see the post 1998 settlement, for all its flaws, as far better than the post protocol world.
In the unionist display of solidarity at the Tory conference, Lord Trimble said that the protocol was “hollowing out” the 1998 accord.
Lord Frost also said: “[The command paper proposals] do not sweep away the Protocol. They work with the grain of it”
This paragraph reflects another emerging emphasis from London, away from its “commitment” to the protocol, something it reaffirmed this year, towards an almost grudging acceptance of the deal — and only if it changes. Lord Frost is saying that the UK is not acceding to unionist demands to scrap the protocol, but by adding that London will “work with the grain” of the deal, he is stopping short of a commitment to its essence.
Remember that in January the Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis was still denying that there was a border in the Irish Sea.
Lord Frost on Tuesday also said: “ ...there is a widespread feeling in the UK that the EU did try to use Northern Ireland to encourage UK political forces to reverse the referendum result or at least to keep us closely aligned with the EU; and, moreover, that the Protocol represents a moment of EU overreach when the UK’s negotiating hand was tied, and therefore cannot reasonably last in its current form.”
This is now a core part of the UK strategy: that the protocol was agreed in extremis in 2019. Lord (Dan) Hannan wrote on Conservative Home, reproduced on these pages, this week, see link below: “... There is no way that [Britain] would have agreed to the protocol had not a majority of MPs been working with Brussels to sabotage Brexit. The Protocol was the product of the Benn Act.”
Lord Frost’s fourth notable quote: “... it is this government that governs Northern Ireland as it does the rest of the UK. Northern Ireland is not EU territory. It is our responsibility to safeguard peace and prosperity in NI, and that may include using Article 16 if necessary”
A UK minister openly defending sovereignty. What a pleasant change.
• Ben Lowry (@Benlowry2) is News Letter editor
• Owen Polley Oct 16: The EU didn’t even try to address the assault on NI’s place in UK
Other articles by Ben Lowry below, and beneath that information on how to subscribe to the News Letter:
• Ben Lowry Oct 9: Echoes of 2019, as Boris Johnson fails to proclaim his unionism in speech
• Ben Lowry Oct 2: Unionism could make great headway lobbying in the United States
• Ben Lowry Oct 2: A belated happy 284th birthday to ourselves at the News Letter!
• Ben Lowry September 25: Colum Eastwood is right to say that vaccine passports allow us to open up
• Ben Lowry Sep 25: A sunny autumn day in Co Down banishes some of my equinox gloom
• Ben Lowry Sep 4: Drivers are now well paid ... which reminds me of a job idea
• Ben Lowry Aug 28: Lagan Valley shows the challenges facing both unionism and Alliance
• Ben Lowry Aug 21: Unionists are more vulnerable to the fall of Stormont than republicans
• Ben Lowry Aug 21: Bigwigs should realise that there is no holiday before retirement
• Ben Lowry Aug 14: The collapse of Kabul to the Taliban will be seen as a sign of western weakness
• Ben Lowry Aug 7: Covid has been a bewildering and humbling pandemic
• Ben Lowry Aug 7: Now I understand those older people who want cooler summer weather
• Ben Lowry Aug 2: Three points to keep in mind when arguing against the NI Protocol
• Ben Lowry July 31: The last NI housing boom was disaster, and we need to beware a repeat
• Ben Lowry July 24: Hot weather ought to be welcome in NI but this is extreme
• Ben Lowry July 17: UK has tipped into an amnesty after a long approach to IRA that lacked bite
• Ben Lowry July 15: We should be honest as to how we have arrived at a Troubles amnesty
• Ben Lowry July 10: We will find soon if UK is for once going to criticise Ireland
• Ben Lowry July 10: I once always wanted England to lose, now I want them to win
• Ben Lowry July 3: The mild DUP response to the protocol will cause Boris little concern
• Ben Lowry June 26: Neither Dublin nor IRA have been put under any pressure on legacy
• Ben Lowry June 26: A slight sense of sadness as the days again begin to shorten
• Ben Lowry June 19: Somehow the appeasement of Sinn Fein got worse
• Ben Lowry May 22: Instead of ‘moving on’ from IRA funeral, we still need proper answers
• Ben Lowry May 22: If Joel Keys, 19, wants to help unionism he should get a law degree
• Ben Lowry May 15: Edwin Poots and Doug Beattie will offer two distinct shades of unionism
• Ben Lowry May 8: Formal UK ideas for an amnesty are almost exactly 20 years old
• Ben Lowry May 8: Let us hope that the brilliant Eoghan Harris keeps on writing
• Ben Lowry May 1: Unionism can’t just be about managing long-term defeat
• Ben Lowry April 17: DUP still has to choose between managing this disaster or total rejection of it
• Ben Lowry April 10: His enduring marriage to the Queen was key to our understanding of Prince Philip
• Ben Lowry Mar 20: We have made it through the worst of the dark, dreaded winter lockdown
• Ben Lowry Mar 20: MLAs lost control of abortion by rejecting modest law reform
• Ben Lowry Mar 13: Scotland tunnel isn’t fantasy, but something kids of today might see
• Ben Lowry Mar 6: The cost of victims’ pension has ballooned without explanation as to why
• Ben Lowry Feb 20: We still lack answers as to why IRA funeral got special treatment at Roselawn
• Ben Lowry Feb 13: Peter Robinson has long experience of what is and is not politically feasible
• Ben Lowry Jan 30: At last, clear reason for UK and unionists to stop being weak towards Ireland/EU
• Ben Lowry Jan 16: The Irish Sea border was imposed because UK knew unionists would take it
• Ben Lowry in 2020: Last night unionists celebrated a move towards Irish unity
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