Critics slam ‘shameless’ Tories as Lord Frost says protocol he signed up to needs renegotiated
Sinn Fein has said the Government must not be allowed to renege on international law as London launched an attempt to rewrite the protocol.
In a statement in the House of Lords, Brexit Minister Lord Frost stopped short of ripping up the document but said that London wanted to strike a “new balance” on Northern Ireland with Brussels.
He unveiled the Government’s 28-page blueprint for an alternative. But Sinn Fein’s Stormont junior minister Declan Kearney said: "The British Government has agreed and ratified all elements of the protocol with the European Commission.
"It should now stop the evasion and get on with its implementation. It is not acceptable for the Tories to adopt an a la carte approach towards the protocol, to rewrite history, and now attempt a renegotiation.”
Mr Kearney added: “The current grace periods end in 10 weeks’ time. Threats of unilateral action by the British Government fuels mistrust and will certainly not provide the stability and certainty businesses, manufacturers, traders and farmers require.
“The British Government have options available, and choices to make, which will substantially reduce Irish Sea border checks through a veterinary agreement with the EU.
"While the British Government continues to delay implementation of the protocol it is harder for businesses in the north to capitalise on the economic special circumstances it affords the north for attracting new jobs and foreign investment.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the Government's statement was the "latest in a car crash attempt to distance themselves from an agreement they negotiated, campaigned for and signed up to".
He said: "It is a shameless position based on political expedience rather than providing the stability that people, businesses and communities in Northern Ireland need.
"There are very clearly issues with the operation of the protocol. But rather than pursuing the obvious solution to Irish Sea checks acknowledged by businesses operating in the current environment, which is an SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) deal with the EU, this Government has decided to prioritise trade deals with other countries.”
Alliance deputy leader Dr Stephen Farry accused the Government of opting for “bluster and a rewriting of history”.
“It will bring even more uncertainty and instability for businesses and the wider community,” he said.
"The Government is choosing more wishful thinking and confrontation with the EU rather than taking the most obvious solution available, which is a comprehensive veterinary agreement with the EU.
“Alliance wants to achieve as many mitigations and flexibilities as possible in relation to the protocol. These must be legally sustainable. They can be achieved within the protocol itself or through building on the Trade and Co-operation Agreement.
“These outcomes require mutual trust and confidence between the UK and the EU. The actions and behaviour of the UK Government over the past few months have been entirely counterproductive, including today’s statements and the empty threats around invoking Article 16.”
The Republic’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the protocol was jointly agreed by the UK and the EU, and "must be jointly implemented".
He said: "The protocol safeguards the Good Friday Agreement, avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland and protects the single market, and Ireland's place in it.
"We will continue to encourage the UK to work in partnership with the EU to identify realistic solutions in a spirit of positive and constructive engagement.
“The EU has consistently said it is ready to find flexible, practical approaches to address the difficulties citizens in Northern Ireland are experiencing as regards the implementation of the protocol.
"However, any solutions must take place within the framework of the protocol and the principles that underpin it.”
Mr Coveney added: "We must bear in mind the significant opportunities the protocol presents for business and employment in Northern Ireland.
"Northern Ireland is the only place in the world whose goods have free and full access to both the EU single market and the rest of the UK internal market.
"Realising these opportunities, as our economies build back from the impact of Covid, should be the focus of our energy at this time."
Lord Frost told the House of Lords: “These proposals will require significant change to the Northern Ireland Protocol. We do not shy away from that. We believe such change is necessary to deal with the situation we now face.”
The situation in Northern Ireland was “unsatisfactory” to “all sides”, he said. Disruption to business and the trade barriers across the Irish Sea must be addressed and negotiations with the EU “have not got to the heart of the problem”.
“These impacts risk being felt in the fabric of our Union too,” he warned. “All dimensions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement need to be respected, that is Northern Ireland’s integral place in our UK just as much as the North-South dimension of the agreement.”