UK demands ‘standstill period’ to freeze Northern Ireland Protocol, triggering fresh clash with EU

David Frost wants to tear up bedrock of 2019 agreement - insisting it ‘must no longer be policed’ by EU courts

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 21 July 2021 16:43
David Frost demands changes to Northern Ireland Protocol- 'We cannot go on as we are'.mp4

The UK has demanded a “standstill period” to freeze the Northern Ireland Protocol and to end oversight by EU courts, triggering a fresh clash with Brussels.

Unveiling a new “approach” to the agreement it agreed and signed, the government also warned Brussels it is already within its rights to suspend it altogether – should it choose to.

David Frost, the Brexit minister, blamed EU intransigence for the “burden” of Irish Sea trade checks and the “febrile political climate” in Northern Ireland – which had led to “disorder”.

The UK demands would “maintain grace periods” – preventing further checks in the autumn – and halt “existing legal actions” by the EU, which accuses London of a failure to implement the agreement.

To gasps in the House of Lords, the minister also insisted the Protocol “must no longer be policed by EU institutions and courts of justice” – a key aspect of the 2019 deal.

“These burdens will worsen, not improve, over time as grace periods expire”, Lord Frost warned, leaving businesses and society in deeper trouble, he argued.

And he insisted: “Putting it simply, we cannot go on as we are.”

Crucially, Lord Frost claimed “it is clear that the circumstances exist to justify the use of Article 16” – the mechanism that would suspend the Protocol.

But he added it was “not the right moment to do so”, saying the UK would continue to talk to the EU to try to agree “a new balance” without that draconian step.

The minister also explained the UK would be seeking the EU to allow goods “meeting both UK and EU standards to circulate” – another clear breach of the 2019 agreement.

Full Irish Sea checks “should only be applied to goods genuinely destined for the EU”, a command paper argues, a so-called “honesty box” approach.

Brussels has opposed a dual-standards regime – even if UK goods were labelled as only for use in Northern Ireland – for fear it will undermine the single market.

The package of demands adds up to a move to renegotiate the Protocol entirely, rather than simple seeking changes to customs and animal products checks, to reduce the impact.

The hardline stance was hailed as “a significant step in the right direction” by Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and “an acceptance that the Protocol is not sustainable”.

But Stephen Farry, the deputy leader of the Alliance Party, attacked a breach of trust, saying: “Rather than rewrite the Protocol, the government wants to rewrite history.”

And Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Northern Ireland spokesman, said: “This is a joke.

“The government is taking us all for mugs when they say this mess could not have been predicted. They signed up to the Protocol knowing full well businesses would be caught up in a game of political football.”

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