Lord Frost on NI Protocol: We cannot wait forever for EU - without an agreed solution soon the UK will need to act

At a keynote speech at the Tory conference today, Brexit minister Lord Frost has warned the EU that unless it provides solutions to the NI Protcol soon, the UK will be forced to take action.

Monday, 4th October 2021, 10:13 am
Updated Monday, 4th October 2021, 4:13 pm
Lord Frost warned the EU today that the UK cannot wait forever for solutions on the NI Protocol.

The UK “cannot wait forever” for Brussels to respond to demands to change Northern Ireland’s Brexit deal, Lord Frost said as he issued a fresh warning he might suspend parts of the arrangements.

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference, the Brexit minister said there would be “some rough waters” as a result of leaving the EU “but we will choose for ourselves how to steer our ship”.

The main issue of contention with the European Union is the Northern Ireland Protocol, the package of measures aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The arrangements effectively keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, but as a result have put a trade barrier for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.

The peer, who negotiated the deal including the protocol which was signed by Boris Johnson, said he worried that Brussels would not grant the concessions he was seeking to maintain cross-Irish Sea trade.

Lord Frost said he would soon share legal texts with Brussels setting out how the UK intends to resolve the issue – and could unilaterally suspend some of the current arrangements under Article 16 of the treaty if the EU does not respond.

“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,” he told Tories gathered in Manchester.

“We await a formal response from the EU to our proposals. But, from what I hear, I worry that we will not get one which enables the significant change we need.

“So I urge the EU to be ambitious. It’s no use tinkering around the edges. We need significant change.

“If we can agree something better, we can get back to where we wanted to be – an independent Britain with friendly relations with the EU based on free trade.

“But 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.”

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.”

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng later told the Conservative Party conference that Brexit was an “opportunity” to reset the economy with higher wages and more skilled jobs.

He said: “We had essentially a low-wage, low-skilled, high-immigration economic model. That was what was happening. As a consequence of Brexit we have essentially broken free of that model and what we want to do, what we want to go into, is a high-wage, high-skilled economy.”

Mr Kwarteng added he remembered meeting a builder in his constituency during the 2016 Brexit referendum who told the MP he would vote to leave the EU because he had not had a pay rise in more than a decade.

Mr Kwarteng said: “It was then that I realised that actually not only would Brexit have a chance but, actually, if you got Brexit, it would be chance to reset the kind of economic model we have.”