Lord Frost today set a November deadline for a Brexit breakthrough on the Northern Ireland Protocol as he warned the EU the UK ‘cannot wait forever’ for border checks to be improved.
The Government’s Brexit chief said there will be a ‘decision point’ early next month when it will become apparent if it is possible for the two sides to agree a solution to resolve ongoing disruption.
Lord Frost revealed this morning he has finalised proposals to permanently replace the controversial protocol and will submit them to Brussels in the coming days.
He said he expects a response from the EU in 10 days, potentially followed by three weeks of intensive talks.
Should those talks fail to result in a breakthrough then Lord Frost suggested the UK would look at triggering Article 16 of the protocol which would see Britain unilaterally tear up the offending rules.
Lord Frost told a fringe event at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester: ‘I think that the timetable, I mean obviously is not pinned down day to day, but I personally believe there comes a decision point probably around early November where we know whether an agreement can be reached or not.’
Lord Frost had earlier delivered a major speech in the main conference hall in which he stressed the UK is prepared to trigger the mechanism if the EU refuses to budge on Britain’s demands.
Lord Frost today warned the EU that the UK ‘cannot wait forever’ for post-Brexit border checks in Northern Ireland to be improved as he revealed he has drawn up a replacement scheme
It is thought the plans will be shared with Brussels in the coming days in a move which is likely to worsen tensions with the bloc amid a rumbling row over how to reduce disruption at the border. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is pictured in Bosnia on September 30
The Government has repeatedly threatened to trigger Article 16 of the protocol which would allow Britain to unilaterally walk away from some of the rules.
However, such a move would spark a furious response in Brussels and would likely lead to a legal challenge.
The protocol, agreed as part of the Brexit deal, requires checks on goods travelling from GB to Northern Ireland to be carried out at ports in order to avoid the return of a land border with the Republic.
But it has caused disruption to trade and angered unionists who have demanded the rules be scrapped, arguing they create a barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The UK wants to renegotiate the terms of the protocol but the EU is only willing to make tweaks.
Lord Frost has now drawn up plans to permanently replace the protocol, telling Tory activists he will ‘soon be sending a new set of legal texts to the EU’.
He said he believes the protocol now risks undermining the Good Friday Agreement and the threshold for triggering Article 16 has been met.
He warned ‘tinkering around the edges’ will not fix the fundamental problems with the protocol and urged the EU to be more ‘ambitious’ in its approach so that an agreed solution to the ongoing issues can be found.
Arguing that ‘significant change’ is needed, he said: ‘If we can agree something better, we can get back to where we wanted to be – an independent Britain with friendly relations with the EU based on free trade.
‘But we cannot wait forever. Without an agreed solution soon, we will need to act, using the Article 16 safeguard mechanism, to address the impact the Protocol is having on Northern Ireland.
‘That may in the end be the only way to protect our country – our people, our trade, our territorial integrity, the peace process, and the benefits of this great UK of which we are all part.’
Lord Frost later told a Centre for Brexit Policy fringe event that if the UK needs to ‘go down that road’ of triggering Article 16 ‘then we will do so’.
He admitted that course of action would have ‘repercussions and consequences’ but he said ‘if that is what is necessary to protect the unity of the country then that’s what we will do’.
The Cabinet minister said the two sides need to ‘move forward urgently now’ to try to find an agreed solution.
Asked for greater clarity on when Article 16 could be triggered, he replied: ‘I think that the timetable, I mean obviously is not pinned down day to day, but I personally believe there comes a decision point probably around early November where we know whether an agreement can be reached or not.’
The Northern Ireland Protocol has caused disruption to trade and angered unionists who have demanded the rules be scrapped, arguing they create a barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Louise Haigh, said that ‘Lord Frost negotiated every single word of the deal he now discredits at every opportunity’.
She accused the Cabinet Office minister of ‘inflaming tensions while solving nothing’.
Lord Frost also used his speech in Manchester to look ahead to opportunities presented by Brexit, such as new trade deals and a new immigration system.
He said: ‘All history, all experience, shows that democratic countries with free economies, which let people keep more of the money they have earned, make their own decisions, and manage their own lives, are not just richer but also happier and more admired by others.
‘That is where we need to take this country. The opportunities are huge. The long bad dream of our EU membership is over. The British renaissance has begun.’
Source: Daily Mail UK