Lord Frost says post-Brexit talks with EU 'not hugely productive'

Lord Frost warns post-Brexit checks in Northern Ireland have had ‘bigger chilling effect than we thought’ on trade from the rest of the UK as he says talks with the EU on improving border rules are ‘not hugely productive’

  • UK and EU are locked in talks on how to improve the Northern Ireland Protocol
  • Lord Frost said border rules having ‘bigger chilling effect’ than thought on trade 
  • He said talks ‘not hugely productive’ but hopes for breakthrough within a month 

Lord Frost today said post-Brexit border rules in Northern Ireland are having a ‘bigger chilling effect than we thought’ on trade coming from Great Britain. 

The Cabinet Office minister told MPs that talks remain ongoing with the European Union on how to improve the rollout of the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

He said there is ‘a bit of momentum’ in discussions with the bloc but warned overall they are ‘not hugely productive’. 

However, Lord Frost said he does remain hopeful of a potential breakthrough within the next month. 

The Northern Ireland Protocol has angered unionists because it effectively creates a barrier between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by leaving the region tied to a range of EU customs and regulatory rules

The Protocol was agreed as part of the Brexit divorce deal and it was designed to protect the peace process by avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

But it has angered unionists because it effectively creates a barrier between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by leaving the region tied to a range of EU customs and regulatory rules.

Those rules require checks to be carried out on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, causing disruption to trade.  

Lord Frost told Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee this afternoon that the Protocol’s impact on trade from GB to Northern Ireland has been greater than anticipated. 

He said: ‘I think the broader question is that the processes around the boundary between GB and Northern Ireland are significant.

‘They probably have a bigger chilling effect than we thought on GB businesses wanting to move goods into Northern Ireland and that is one of the problems that’s underlying some of the unrest and political developments we are seeing in Northern Ireland.’

Talks remain ongoing between Britain and Brussels as they discuss how to improve the rollout of the Protocol. 

Lord Frost said he does not intend to impose a negotiating deadline but signalled he wants the problems to be resolved as soon as possible. 

The UK Government fears that unless problems are remedied, unionist violence could flare during the July marching season in protest at the border in the Irish Sea.  

Lord Frost told MPs: ‘At the moment, we are talking to the Commission about the range of practical issues that have arisen from trying to operate the Protocol.

‘I would say many of those issues don’t themselves go to the heart of the problems but we are talking to them and trying to find solutions.

‘There is a bit of momentum in that discussion. It is not hugely productive and we will have to see how far we can take it.

‘The fundamental problem for us is that the way the Protocol is operating is undermining the Good Friday Agreement rather than supporting it then we obviously have a problem, that wasn’t what the Protocol was meant to do and if it is doing it then it isn’t working right.

‘So we have begun discussion with the EU that enables us to fix those sort of difficulties.

‘At the moment we aren’t quite [there] but I still hope that that might be possible in the next month or so.’

His comments to the committee came after he suggested at the weekend that the UK Government could unilaterally decide to suspend border checks in Northern Ireland by triggering Article 16 of the Protocol should Brussels refuse to budge.  

Lord Frost made clear this afternoon that such a step has not been ruled out by ministers. 

‘Article 16 does allow for such counter-measures, obviously no decisions have been taken on any of these next steps, as I said we continue to consider all the options,’ he said.

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