Boris Johnson’s defacto Brexit minister has confirmed he will update parliament on the Northern Ireland Protocol this week, with rumours swirling he will threaten to deviate from the post-Brexit arrangement.
Lord David Frost told a parliamentary committee meeting today that the protocol “must work in a different way if we’re to find the stable route going forward”.
Frost is expected to address the House of Lords on Wednesday, however Number 10 has been unwilling to confirm the exact day.
Reuters reports that Frost will threaten to seriously alter the treaty, after months of negotiations with the EU have yielded little to no progress.
Northern Ireland still follows the EU’s custom union and single market rules, unlike the rest of the UK, creating a so-called border in the Irish Sea.
The protocol has been met with increasing fury by some sections of the Northern Ireland unionist community.
The UK wants the EU to adopt less stringent checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to minimise economic and political disruption.
Brussels, meanwhile, says it is following the protocol to the letter of the law and wants to protect its single market from unauthorised goods entering it through the backdoor.
Frost told Westminster’s European Scrutiny Committee today that the protocol as it is being implemented is untenable.
“I think what I can say at the moment is that it must work in a different way if we’re to find the stable route going forward… If the workings of the protocol are undermining the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, then the protocol isn’t doing its job,” he said.
“One of the core elements of the Belfast agreement was that…the three strands had equal status. At the moment, it feels as if the east-west elements of the protocol are not working as well as north-south, and clearly that imbalance is not what the Good Friday Agreement intended, so that’s the core of the problem.”
Negotiations over the future implementation of the protocol have taken place amidst a background of growing unionist anger in Northern Ireland.
The anger with the protocol led to two DUP leaders being ousted within five weeks and helped spark weeks of violent rioting in Belfast earlier this year.
Frost said recently that the post-Brexit UK-EU relationship is effectively doomed if they cannot come to a compromise on Northern Ireland.
The government has threatened on multiple occasions to either trigger Article 16 and suspend the protocol or to unilaterally alter it.
Brussels has already launched legal action after the UK made a unilateral decision to postpone fresh border checks earlier this year and have threatened to launch a trade war if similar moves are made in the future.