UK warns EU of ‘turbulence’ in Northern Ireland unless Protocol crisis solved by July

‘Late spring and summer in Northern Ireland can sometimes be turbulent.... we have to take that reality into account’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 18 May 2021 12:15
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David Frost warns of Northern Ireland 'turbulence' over Protocol in July.mp4

The post-Brexit trading crisis in Northern Ireland must be solved before the “turbulence” of traditional Protestant celebrations in July, David Frost has warned the EU.

Boris Johnson’s negotiator denied that July 12 – the date of the largest parade – is “a formal time limit or deadline” for talks on changes to the Protocol to succeed.

But he said: “We all know that late spring and summer in Northern Ireland can sometimes be turbulent and some days are significant in that. We have to take that reality into account.

“We have a responsibility to try and avoid further deterioration and difficulties in the situation – and that obviously is a possibility as we go into the spring and summer.”

The comments come after the UK has repeatedly said it is ready to invoke Article 16 – giving it the freedom to act unilaterally if the protocol is causing “economic difficulties” – if necessary.

Lord Frost said no decision had been taken yet and urged the EU to respond constructively if “measures of any kind” are taken.

Every 12 July, members of the Orange Order carry banners and flags in parades across Northern Ireland, accompanied by marching bands. There are fears this could cause conflict with Republican communities.

This year’s celebrations will come after the Democratic Unionist Party elected a hardline new leader demanding the scrapping of the protocol and border checks on trade with Great Britain.

At the weekend, Lord Frost attacked the EU for intransigence and suggested the arrangements – an international treaty agreed by the UK – would not be “sustainable for long”.

The Irish government is alarmed by a link being drawn between finding a solution and the loyalist marching season, one senior source calling it “irresponsible”.

Speaking to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, Lord Frost also:

* Claimed that, on UK-EU trade as a whole, “the initial disruptions have been largely overcome” – despite goods exports remaining well below pre-pandemic levels.

* Admitted the Irish Sea border checks were having “a bigger chilling effect than we thought”.

* Nevertheless shot down calls for the UK to stick with EU food and plant rules, to minimise checks, saying – “we are not doing dynamic alignment”.

* Argued the UK’s “naval presence” had forced a climbdown in the dispute over fishing in Jersey’s waters – while insisting “we don’t choose gunboat diplomacy”.

* Claimed Brussels is putting pressure on EU member states not to strike deals to allow the UK to return asylum-seekers.

Hilary Benn, of the cross-party UK Trade and Business Commission at Westminister, criticised the claim of near-normality on cross-Channel trade, telling The Independent: “This doesn’t square with the evidence we’ve heard in recent weeks.

“This so-called initial disruption has become an impediment to smooth trade and some companies are now giving up on trade with the EU or Northern Ireland altogether, because of the additional bureaucracy and costs involved.”

And James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said the evidence suggested food exports are still down by roughly a third.

“The chaos in January has given way to more order. However, the reality is that business is adjusting to a new normal, not getting back to the way things were,” he said.

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