Frost hints at action by Christmas if ‘intensive talks’ on Northern Ireland fail

·3-min read

Brexit minister Lord Frost hinted that action over Northern Ireland’s Brexit deal could be taken by Christmas as he called for “short, intensive” talks with the EU to get under way swiftly.

The Tory peer said on Monday 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 what is seen to be the nuclear option of triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Conservative Party Conference
Lord Frost addressed the Conservative Party conference in Manchester (Peter Byrne/PA)

The move would effectively tear up parts of the deal to avoid a hard border with Ireland, which he negotiated with the EU last December.

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.

He said Article 16 would not be triggered “randomly”, adding that the proper process would be followed to provide the “maximum possible predictability and certainty” to traders in the region.

The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, but as a result has imposed a trade barrier on products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.

Unionists want Prime Minister Boris Johnson to tear it up, a move he has so far resisted as the Government presses for a renegotiation with Brussels.

Earlier in the day, Lord Frost told Conservatives in the main conference hall that the new set of legal texts would help “establish a new balance for a lasting future”.

“So I urge the EU to be ambitious. It’s no use tinkering around the edges. We need significant change,” he said.

“If we can agree something better, we can get back to where we wanted to be – an independent Britain with friendly relations with the EU based on free trade.

“But we cannot wait forever. Without an agreed solution soon, we will need to act, using the Article 16 safeguard mechanism, to address the impact the protocol is having on Northern Ireland.”

Louise Haigh
Louise Haigh said the Government’s approach ‘is inflaming tensions while solving nothing’ (Brian Lawless/PA)

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said the Government’s approach “is inflaming tensions while solving nothing”.

“Lord Frost negotiated every single word of the deal he now discredits at every opportunity,” the Labour MP said.

“Communities in Northern Ireland are sick and tired of the political posturing from a Government they have long since lost trust in.”

At a conference fringe event, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “We simply cannot allow this situation to continue. And we need to see action taken by the Government within weeks.”

He added: “We need the Government to set up, and to take action to remove this Irish Sea border, remove the barriers to trade within the United Kingdom, and fundamentally to restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.”

Triggering Article 16 “has its use in the short term” but legislation was needed “to restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the United Kingdom,” he said.

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