Minister repeats warning the UK could act unilaterally over Brexit row

Comments risks exacerbating tensions with Euopean Union

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Wednesday 16 June 2021 15:48
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<p>DUP politicians have claimed that the part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal known as the Northern Ireland protocol is risking peace in the province</p>

DUP politicians have claimed that the part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal known as the Northern Ireland protocol is risking peace in the province

The Brexit minister has risked inflaming tensions with the EU further after he again suggested the UK could unilaterally extend a “grace period” for checks on goods to Northern Ireland.

Lord Frost told MPs there had been little progress in talks designed to end the conflict over Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. He added: “Obviously we would prefer to find negotiated ways forward if we can. If that’s not possible … other options remain on the table.”

UK and EU officials are in discussions to resolve the row before the current system comes to a halt at the end of this month.

Lord Frost told MPs that a UK suggestion that both sides agree to an extension had so far fallen on deaf ears.

He accused the EU of sticking to a “very purist” position and risked escalating the war on words over the issue by appearing to blame the bloc.

“It would seem to me a pity to make this negotiation that is very complex and tense even more so, ” he said.

His comments came as he gave evidence to the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs committee.

DUP politicians have claimed that the part of Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal known as the Northern Ireland protocol is risking peace in the province.

They warn it effectively puts a border down the Irish Sea, separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

The protocol was agreed between the two sides in a bid to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, itself seen as a possible threat to the peace process.

It was backed by Mr Johnson and his ministers, despite being rejected by his predecessor, Theresa May, who warned it would be a threat to the structural integrity of the UK.

Lord Frost told the committee the protocol required the consent of all sides in Northern Ireland, with fears of a return to violence as the loyalist marching season gets under way in earnest next month.

“As the prime minister said, we’ll do whatever we have to, to make sure we support the peace process. The protocol depends on consent, it is very difficult to operate if there is not consent and willingness from one section of Northern Ireland opinion.”

In comments that will raise eyebrows on the continent, he said: “In the circumstances where the politics are so delicate, and we all say we are trying to support the Good Friday Agreement, and take the EU on their word on that, it would seem sensible to look at these things in a more reasonable way.”

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