The EU has not done enough to present solutions to the problems surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol and must instead show “more ambition”, Lord David Frost has said.
The UK’s defacto Brexit minister chided Brussels negotiators for not pushing talks fast enough, stressing that “we need more … urgency if we are to sustain the peace process and protect the Belfast, or Good Friday, Agreement”.
It comes after the tone of the negotiations had lowered in recent weeks, with both sides indicating that talks over the implementation of the protocol had become more productive.
European Commission Vice President, and chief Brexit negotiator, Maros Sefcovic hit back at Frost this morning and said “I have the feeling in our meetings that I’m the only one who pushes for urgent proposals”.
The UK and EU both recognise that the implementation of the protocol is causing economic and political problems in Northern Ireland, with both sides putting forward proposals to reduce checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Northern Ireland still follows the EU’s customs union and single market rules, unlike the rest of the UK, to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
Onerous checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland has led to supermarket shortages and has sparked violence from some elements of the unionist community.
Frost is calling for an honesty box approach, where there are no checks on goods if the exporter declares that they are only intended for use in Northern Ireland.
“So far [the EU’s] solutions don’t deal with the problems. We need more ambition and more urgency if we are to sustain the peace process and protect the Belfast, or Good Friday, Agreement,” Frost wrote in the Mail on Sunday.
“Goods which both we and the EU agree aren’t going to leave Northern Ireland should not be treated as if they were moving from one country to another – because they are not.
“Goods going on to Ireland should be checked, in the Irish Sea, to protect the EU’s single market and to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. That’s what we have proposed. But at the moment the EU says it is impossible. I urge them to think again.”
The EU has come forward with proposals to cut checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in half.
This includes cutting checks on agricultural goods by 80 per cent and concessions to ensure the free flow of medicines across the Irish Sea.
However, Brussels maintains that checks are still needed to ensure unauthorised goods do not enter the EU single market through the backdoor.
Sefcovic accused Frost today of “political posturing” after his comments in the Mail.
“Sometimes I feel in our meetings I am the only one pushing for urgent solutions,” Sefcovic told the BBC.
“We have been putting proposals on the table on solving the uninterrupted supply of medicines to NI since June and I remember Lord Frost telling me that what is important for him is not only content but also process. I was waiting to see if he can deliver on that solution jointly and I have to say that until today that has not been the case.
“If we would still be in the mode of political posturing and bringing new problems to the table, I don’t think we will solve the most pressing issues for Northern Ireland and so we may be acting alone to ensure the Northern Ireland people have the medicines they need.”