The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator has accused the EU of “purist point scoring” over the bloc’s overzealous enforcement of the Northern Ireland Protocol and hinted that it could be scrapped altogether.
Lord Frost, who was ennobled and given a Cabinet role for his work on the Brexit deal, said negotiators “had not anticipated” the EU’s tough enforcement of rules on goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which he said makes “no sense”.
The UK Government believes checks on goods that travel across the Irish Sea to their final destination in Northern Ireland should not be subject to the same border checks as goods which are at risk of entering the EU single market by travelling into the Republic of Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Protocol established a system that effectively creates a customs border in the Irish Sea, which is unpopular with unionists and has led to increased tension at the ports in Northern Ireland in recent months.
Lord Frost’s intervention places the blame for tension over border checks at the feet of the EU, which he said had been overzealous in checking goods that were not at risk of entering the single market.
“The EU takes a very purist view of all this,” he wrote in the Mail on Sunday.
“It seems to want to treat goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK in the same way as the arrival of a vast Chinese container ship at Rotterdam.”
“My message to our friends in Europe is: stop the point-scoring and work with us. Seize the moment, help find a new approach to Northern Ireland, and then we can build a new relationship for the future.”
Lord Frost’s comments came after a senior UK Government source told The Telegraph that the EU’s intransigence means the Northern Ireland Protocol is effectively “dead in the water”.
The source warned that the EU must relax checks by mid-July or “we risk seeing the kind of disruption and the protests that we had recently”.
Lord Frost said the checks also made business difficult for food shops in Northern Ireland, which often import from small suppliers based in the rest of the UK.
Those suppliers “find it too difficult and too time consuming to deal with the paperwork,” he said.
“This means less choice for Northern Ireland consumers than in the rest of the UK.”
He concluded: “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.”
The peer’s public criticism of the protocol and warning that it may not survive will be welcome news to the DUP.
The party’s new leader, Edwin Poots, has said he will begin “ramping things,” with respect to his party’s opposition to the protocol.
Mr Poots said he would consult with his party on whether Arlene Foster, his predecessor and current First Minister of Northern Ireland, should stand down earlier than her intended departure date at the end of June.
The new leader said he will not take on the role himself, leaving him free to “reinvigorate unionism” away from the “machinations of government”.