Irish Sea border: UK tells EU it needs a ‘rapid’ fix for NI Protocol

Brexit minister Lord Frost has threatened that the UK could soon take drastic action over the post-Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland over concerns about violence and disruption.

Sunday, 16th May 2021, 8:16 pm
Updated Monday, 17th May 2021, 9:31 am

He urged the European Union to “stop the point-scoring and work with us” to “rapidly” find new solutions to end border checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea which he says make “no sense”.

His warning to Brussels came as the incoming DUP leader said getting rid of the Northern Ireland Protocol will be his top priority in the coming months.

Edwin Poots said: “The protocol is by far the biggest issue.”

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Incoming DUP leader Edwin Poots at his home in Lisburn on Sunday

He added: “For me, this is not a unionist issue. This is a Northern Ireland issue. At the end of the grace period we are looking at 15,000 checks being applied on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.”

It also came on the eve of the expected appointment of Doug Beattie as UUP leader.

He is the only declared candidate with nominations closing on Monday at noon.

Lord Frost warned that the government continues “to consider all our options” as he said the situation caused by the NI Protocol that he negotiated “cannot be sustained for long”.

But potentially breaching international law by tearing up the protocol was understood not to be under consideration, with government sources hinting at the triggering of Article 16 to suspend checks instead being an option.

Arguing ministers “did not anticipate” issues with checks when signing the protocol, Lord Frost wrote in the Mail on Sunday that “I totally understand” the anxiety of unionists.

“Protests have been occurring and political stability is at risk. Our overriding aim has always been to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. If the protocol is not protecting it, it is not working,” he said.

“The EU need, rapidly, to find a new approach and new solutions.”

He added: “If the protocol operates so as to damage the political, social, or economic fabric of life in Northern Ireland, then that situation cannot be sustained for long. We are responsible for protecting the peace and prosperity of everyone in Northern Ireland and we will continue to consider all our options for doing so.”

Lord Frost issued the threat after meeting loyalist paramilitaries during a visit to Northern Ireland last week.

The protocol was designed to protect the peace process by avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

But it has angered unionists by effectively creating a barrier between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by leaving the region tied to a range of EU customs and regulatory rules.

If the UK triggered Article 16, it would be the second such act since the protocol came into force at the beginning of the year when the post-Brexit transition period ended.

Brussels invoked the provisions in January and then quickly backtracked in the face of widespread criticism as it sought to impose controls on coronavirus vaccines made in the bloc.

Meanwhile, Mr Beattie said he was unaware of any other potential candidates likely to emerge before the mid-day deadline, and, even if formally elected, his appointment will still be subject to ratification by the party’s ruling executive.

“I think there will be some things that will change reasonably quickly, but I will be just making sure that my vision for the way I want the party to be seen and how we promote ourselves, and our policies – that view of us should start to change quite quickly.”

Commenting on whether his liberal views of same-sex marriage and abortion will alienate more conservative members of the party, Mr Beattie said: “We have members of the party who are more conservative, and that’s ok and I will work with any of those people, and my aim is not to upset them to the point where they have to leave.

“My aim is to work with everybody but same-sex marriage is settled – it’s now legal – and they may not like it but that is the case, so there is no argument to be had.

“Abortion is now legal here, it’s settled, so there is no argument to be had there either.

“I suppose there are some members who will want me to discuss [gay] conversion therapy – and they may think that it should be a matter of conscience (in respect of Assembly voting) so that is a discussion I will be having with them – but it is not going to be a matter of conscience.”

Mr Beattie said that, under his stewardship, the two existing matters of conscience will not be increased beyond abortion and assisted dying issues.