The UK’s Brexit minister has warned that an extension of the Northern Ireland Protocol grace periods is simply a “sticking plaster” and said the “underlying problem” needs to be resolved.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Lord Frost said mainstream unionist support for the agreement has “collapsed” and stressed the need to avoid lurching from “crisis to crisis”.
Lord Frost also suggested EU politicians have a “varying degree of understanding” around political complexities in Northern Ireland and accused the trade-bloc of being too focused on “process”
The comments come following a truce on the so-called “sausage war”, after the EU and UK agreed a temporary extension of protocol grace periods on chilled meat products coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
The EU also agreed to change its own rules to allow medicines to continue to flow from the UK into Northern Ireland and waived the obligation to show the motor insurance Green Card for drivers from the UK.
Unionists – who have demonstrated against the UK-EU treaty in recent months – have complained the terms of the protocol are splitting Northern Ireland from Great Britain and hitting the pockets of businesses, with suppliers either giving up exporting across the Irish Sea or facing added checks and costs to do so.
Arguing the protocol does not “reflect the balance that was in the Good Friday Agreement”, Lord Frost told the newspaper despite the agreement made last week, the UK and EU continue to “lurch from date to date, and crisis to crisis and find sticking plaster fixes, but never deal with the underlying problem”.
Lord Frost also said the potential of violence in Northern Ireland as a result of the protocol also has to be “factored in”.
“The problem is, although it was good to have reached that agreement to avoid the cliff edge on June 30, it is only a tiny part of the overall problem,” he told The Telegraph.
“There is a long list of issues thrown up by the way that the protocol has been implemented. This is just one, it was the most immediate, we’ve resolved it for now. But there’s still lots to do.”
“We have seen disorder, albeit fairly low level, at Easter, and we’ve seen quite a lot of protest across Northern Ireland, in various ways, amongst unionism. That just has to be factored in.
“Nobody wants to see that situation get any worse and it’s absolutely not our wish that it should. The best situation is one of calm and we have to show that what we can do together as the UK and EU is capable of responding to those political demands.
“Support for the protocol has collapsed in unionism. The latest polling shows that there’s a 50/50 division in Northern Ireland. That’s just not a stable basis to proceed on. That is the problem.
“It just doesn’t seem unreasonable to us to say, these arrangements aren’t working out quite as we both thought, look at the effects and the way it’s playing out, we really should take another look at how it’s happening.”