Frost and Donaldson at odds over protocol urgency - with Brexit minister saying action may take until Christmas

Brexit minister Lord Frost has hinted to the Tory annual conference that action over Northern Ireland’s Brexit deal could be taken by Christmas.

Monday, 4th October 2021, 10:29 pm
UK chief trade negotiator, David Frost looks on as Prime Minister Boris Johnson signs the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement at 10 Downing Street, Westminster. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday December 30, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Leon Neal/PA Wire

He called for “short, intensive” talks with the EU to get under way swiftly.

However, this is quite different from the timetable which Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the DUP, has been angling for.

Mr Donaldson has repeatedly said that he was thinking in terms of weeks, not months, when it comes to resolving the problem of the protocol.

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Back on September 9, Sir Jeffrey gave a speech saying that “within weeks it will be clear if there is the basis for the Assembly and Executive to continue”.

Asked about this last Friday, he told the News Letter: “We’ve already withdrawn from the North-South Ministerial Council, and we’ve made clear that if the government does not act within a reasonable period then obviously that leaves our position in ministerial office unsustainable.

“We’re looking to the next few weeks to see what action the government takes. but we’re very clear time is of the essence, and we need to see firm action.”

In terms of an actual timetable, he added that “if we reach the end of October and the government is introducing legislation on a culture package that includes proposals on the Irish language – and haven’t honoured the commitment they gave in New Decade New Approach to restore NI’s place within the UK internal market – obviously that will have severe consequences for the sustainability for the political institutions”.

The Tories pledged during the summer that they will enforce such a “cultural package” by the end of October if Stormont does not do it first – much in the same way they did with abortion relaxations and gay marriage.

SO WHAT DID LORD FROST SAY?:

The backdrop to this week’s Tory conference is that in July, after having initially refused to accept that there were significant problems in shipping goods to and from Northern Ireland and Great Britain, Boris Johnson produced a ‘command paper’ admitting that the protocol was “not working well”.

The paper said that things had reached a point where “the circumstances exist to justify using Article 16”.

Article 16 is a key segment in the protocol agreement, which allows the UK to basically rip up the protocol if it is seen to be causing “serious societal and economic difficulties”.

Lord Frost said today that “serious” discussions with Brussels should take place after European officials respond to UK proposals, which he expects “within the next couple of weeks”.

But if the UK and the EU cannot strike an agreement, Lord Frost said Britain will consider triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Lord Frost told the Conservative Party conference in Manchester that he would “soon be sending” new legal texts to the EU with proposals to resolve the “serious political problem”.

“I hope that might change over the next couple of weeks or so. It does need to be resolved though, one way or another, whether it’s through negotiations or Article 16,” he told a fringe event arranged by the Policy Exchange think tank.

“We need a short, intensive and good faith talk process to happen quite soon, and as we come out of that we will know if an agreement is possible or not – and if it’s not possible then obviously we will be looking into Article 16.

“But we need to try everything. We need to show that we’ve tried everything and we need to see if it is possible to agree something.”

The Conservative peer was asked if the problems surrounding Article 16 could be over by Christmas.

“Will it be over by Christmas? I think something will be over by Christmas,” he responded, cryptically.

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