Lord Frost: EU at risk of making ‘historic misjudgment’ over protocol concessions

Brussels will be making a “historic misjudgment” if it fails to make fresh concessions on the Northern Ireland Protocol, Lord Frost will warn on Tuesday. 

In a speech in Lisbon, Portugal, the Brexit minister will urge the European Commission to bend its rules and accept that the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) involvement in the province must end.

Urging the bloc to focus on the bigger picture, Lord Frost will add that if two sides can finally break the deadlock they will be able to unite and refocus on the shared challenges confronting the West, including China and Russia.

“We would have a chance to move forward to a new, and better, equilibrium,” he will go on to say.

His intervention will kick-start a pivotal week in discussions between Brussels and London over the future of Northern Ireland, during which the UK will present draft legal texts setting out its alternative to the protocol.

Maros Sefcovic, Lord Frost’s EU counterpart, is also due to present four proposals on Wednesday that the bloc believes will provide lasting solutions to the disruption that the protocol has caused to trade from the British mainland.

They will cover the sale of British sausages and chilled meats in Northern Ireland, the supply of medicines, animal health rules, customs procedures and a stronger role for Northern Ireland’s institutions in managing protocol.

However, they are expected to fall short of the wholesale renegotiation the UK is demanding, including the ECJ’s jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, which remains due to the protocol requiring the province to continue to follow EU single market and customs rules.

The UK wants it replaced with an arbitration panel similar to the one agreed in the Brexit trade deal.

Triggering Article 16

Should the two sides fail to make progress, Lord Frost has suggested that by “early November” the UK may decide to trigger Article 16, the so-called option of last resort allowing it to suspend parts of the protocol.

It is understood that ministers have begun discussing whether legislation will need to be pushed through Parliament to implement permanent changes.

Urging the bloc to reconsider, Lord Frost is expected to say: “For the EU now to say that the Protocol – drawn up in extreme haste in a time of great uncertainty – can never be improved upon, when it is so self-evidently causing such significant problems, would be a historic misjudgement.

“[It would be] a great disservice to Northern Ireland, and also fail to recognise the process of iterative improvement that has kept the balance and sustained the peace process in Northern Ireland over the past decades.”

Coveney’s intervention

However, his intervention is at risk of being overshadowed by an escalating war of words with Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, who accused the UK of "shifting the playing field" over its stance on the ECJ.

Insisting that the Court’s oversight was integral to the functioning of post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland, he added that he had not spoken to a unionist or business leader in the province who had raised concerns about the ECJ.

His comments prompted a furious backlash from London and Belfast, with Government sources accusing Mr Coveney of a “classic tin-eared response”, and failing to heed the long-standing concerns of unionists.

NI protocol hampering US trade deal poll

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, told The Telegraph the role of the ECJ had been one of his central complaints since he took office, while Lord Dodds, the former DUP deputy leader, also accused Mr Coveney of talking “complete nonsense,” adding: “This is at the heart of our objections to the protocol.”

It came as Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, failed in an attempt to secure the backing of EU states for accusing Britain of being in breach of the post-Brexit trade agreement, in an escalation in the dispute over fishing rights

At a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg, France’s fisheries minister, Annick Girardin, was told to “water down” language in a joint statement, signed by 14 countries, accusing the UK of “a clear failure to comply” with the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

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