The UK government is set to double down on threats to suspend the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol today in what is likely to spark weeks of UK-EU fighting.
Cabinet Office minister Lord David Frost will deliver an address in Lisbon this afternoon in which he will outline the UK’s current position on Northern Ireland Protocol talks and call for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to lose jurisdiction over the treaty.
Frost’s expected statements on the ECJ have been characterised by Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney and some pundits as a ploy to sink UK-EU talks.
The protocol is a part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and sees Northern Ireland follow the EU’s customs union and single market rules, unlike the rest of the UK, in order to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
London and Brussels are in long-running negotiations over how to implement the protocol, after complaints that checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland have been too onerous and are causing economic and political tensions.
European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic will tomorrow outline the EU’s proposals to reduce checks and ease the bureaucracy, but will not agree to Frost’s demand to entirely rewrite the post-Brexit treaty.
Frost will likely say once again today that he and Boris Johnson are prepared to trigger Article 16 and suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol if they are not happy with the EU’s solutions.
A part of the UK’s set of demands is that the governance of the treaty is not in the hands of the ECJ, despite the fact that Frost himself agreed to this in the 2019 Brexit negotiations.
Speaking to journalists yesterday, Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “Without new arrangements on governance the protocol will never have the support it needs to survive. It’s not a side issue.”
Sam Lowe, senior research fellow at The Centre for European Reform think tank, said Frost’s expected statements on the ECJ’s role overseeing the treaty have come from left field.
“The fear is that Frost is just adding things to his list of things to be upset about so as to ensure the EU can never properly satisfy the UK’s demands so he can keep this argument rolling on,” he said.
Anand Menon, director of The UK in a Changing Europe think tank, said negotiations over the protocol could last for years even if the UK does carry out its threat to trigger Article 16 and suspend the treaty.
“It would just be more of the same – its very technical, it’s very legalistic and you won’t have the ‘gotcha’ moment,” he said.
A European Commission spokesperson said: “We are working hard to overcome some of the difficulties that people and businesses in Northern Ireland are experiencing regarding the implementation of the Protocol.
“We need long-lasting solutions to provide predictability, stability and certainty in Northern Ireland.
“We will come forward this week with concrete proposals.”