Frost: Boris missed golden opportunity to kill off the Northern Ireland Protocol

Brexit: Frost discusses missed ‘opportunity’ to end NI Protocol

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The former Brexit minister has told an audience that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s “extraordinary” decision to trigger Article 16 to block vaccines coming to Northern Ireland should have been the end of the Protocol. It comes as the Daily Express has revealed that the Government is considering a new law to guarantee Northern Ireland’s position in the UK and override the hated agreement with the EU.

Lord Frost, who is said to have resigned over his frustration with Mr Johnson for not taking a tougher line with Brussels, said he believes the Prime Minister “has no problem” acting unilaterally on Ulster without EU agreement.

But speaking to Policy Exchange he said the Government should have acted during the crisis triggered by Ms von der Leyen in the pandemic on January 29 last year with her “ham fisted” intervention to stop vaccines going to Northern Ireland.

He said: “The passage of time has dimmed memories of just how extraordinary this proposal was.  

“The EU’s rapid retreat from it showed this – but unfortunately the damage had been done.  The whole moral basis for the Protocol had been destroyed in unionism’s eyes.  It had shown that the EU’s interests came first, whatever the Protocol said. The situation has never recovered.  

“Unionist consent has been destroyed, unionist politics has gone haywire, and the Protocol is never going to be operable as envisaged.”

But he added: “Unfortunately I don’t think we got our response to this EU action quite right.   

“By ourselves joining the insistence that the whole EU regulation should be withdrawn, something which was inevitable anyway, we legitimised a return to the status quo ante – but to a status quo that had, by the EU’s action, become untenable but which we then had the responsibility of managing.  

“I argued internally that we should not let our outrage overwhelm our interests, but was unable to persuade others.”

There have been reports that Chancellor Rishi Sunak insisted on a moderate approach because of fears of a trade war but Lord Frost refused to comment.

He said: “It might have been better to point out that the EU’s vaccine proposal would have used a mechanism very much like those we had proposed for customs in autumn 2019 but had been told were impossible. 

“We should have said ‘Fine. You have set a very low bar for the use of Article 16 – noted.  You have shown that it is in fact possible to control goods going across the land border. We will allow UK–standard goods to circulate in Northern Ireland and put in place arrangements to stop them getting into the single market.’  

“We would have had the moral high ground to act, in circumstances where a challenge would have been very difficult.”

He added: “This was a huge opportunity for us and we failed to take it.  As a consequence, we found ourselves in the only possible alternative position.  

“What subsequently happened was therefore inevitable.  We faced a storm of criticism as we first tried to put in place mitigations, and then proposed changes, to the Protocol.

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“Our opponents rightly sensed we were on weak ground and could be made to suffer for it. Indeed the EU took the opportunity to double down by responding to our low key extension of the grace periods, in areas such as pet passports and non-commercial parcels, by immediately beginning infraction proceedings, which would end at the Court of Justice.”

He warned that the failure to take the opportunity means the UK is blamed for faults with the Protocol.

He said: “Instead, the pressure has been put on us. The EU has been able to refuse any renegotiation of the Protocol, while making minor concessions to keep the upper hand. It is we that have had to justify any use of Article 16, while facing very serious counter-threats from our friends and allies in the EU if we do.”

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