Brexit minister admits UK ‘underestimated’ impact of NI protocol in call for fix

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Time is “starting to run out” to fix the problems facing Northern Ireland after Brexit, the UK’s Brexit minister has warned Brussels.

Lord Frost said the UK Government had “underestimated” the impact the Northern Ireland Protocol, which he helped to negotiate as part of the initial Brexit deal, would have on the region.

He has called on the European Union to forgo “legal purism” and instead embrace “pragmatic solutions” to help resolve the difficulties related to the protocol.

The protocol has angered unionists by effectively creating a barrier between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by leaving the region tied to a range of EU customs and regulatory rules.

In an article for the Financial Times before his meeting this week with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in London, Lord Frost set out his call for a shift in attitude from the bloc.

Lord Frost, who was Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator during the divorce talks, said the UK had put “huge resources” into making the protocol work but that operating under the EU’s legal terms meant “we have very limited discretion to operate the rules in a way which makes sense on the ground in Northern Ireland”.

He said the end result had been “political turbulence” and “real world impacts on lives and livelihoods”.

“We underestimated the effect of the protocol on goods movements to Northern Ireland, with some suppliers in Great Britain simply not sending their products because of the time-consuming paperwork required,” the minister said.

Loyalists take part in an anti-Northern Ireland Protocol rally in Portadown, Co Armagh on Saturday
Loyalists take part in an anti-Northern Ireland Protocol rally in Portadown, Co Armagh on Saturday (Brian Lawless/PA)

“And there is less choice on supermarket shelves for consumers.

“The NI Retail Consortium has warned that when the grace period ends in October, supermarkets will face ‘real, severe problems’.”

In a bid to advance progress on a solution, the peer, who visited Northern Ireland last week, said there needed to be a “common sense and risk-based approach from the EU”, along with UK responsibility.

He said that despite putting together “a range of policy papers” outlining solutions, the UK had received “very little back” from Brussels counterparts.

“The EU needs a new playbook for dealing with neighbours, one that involves pragmatic solutions between friends, not the imposition of one side’s rules on the other and legal purism,” he said.

“But time is starting to run out.

“We need to see progress soon.

“I hope we can this week.”

New DUP leader Edwin Poots said: “The Northern Ireland Protocol is bad for business in Northern Ireland and it is bad for every one of our citizens.

“Those who argued the Protocol was a ‘win win’ are as silent on that as they are about their demands for ‘rigorous implementation’.

“All of us who want to make Northern Ireland work must speak with one voice against the absurd barriers placed on trade with our biggest market.

“As I meet with Maros Sefcovic next week it will be respectful but forceful just as was the case with (Irish premier) Micheal Martin.

“Animals with full traceability pose no threat to the Single Market yet centuries of trade is being strangled in its name.

“It is equally absurd that it took my intervention to prevent checks on pets and guide dogs for diseases that have not been found in the British Isles since 1922.

“The delivery of the Protocol as proposed when the grace periods end with 15,000 checks per week, will be impossible.

“We do not have the infrastructure or staff to do it.

“More importantly there is no appetite to cooperate on this grotesque imposition to facilitate EU punishment of the UK, by hurting Northern Ireland.

“Higher food prices, less choice, deprivation of medicines and medical products are economically and socially damaging.

“Barriers inside the United Kingdom and the democratic deficit from regulations passed with no input from any Northern Ireland representatives is constitutionally damaging.

“I will not be building any permanent infrastructure, rather I am commencing the process to remove what has already been imposed using the courts and politics to make the case.

“Every unionist is not just opposed to the economic burdens but reject the implications for our sovereignty as part of the UK.”

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