The British government will suspend parts of the Brexit agreement covering trade with Northern Ireland if it does not receive an extensive series of concessions from the EU, Lord David Frost said on Monday.
The British Brexit minister received a rebuttal when he addressed the Conservative Party conference in Manchester and warned that Brussels did not understand the extent of the changes needed to resolve an agreement following Brexit relations with the EU. the wheels did not ride.
“I call on the EU to be ambitious. It is of no use to tamper with the edges. We need significant change, ”he said.
The United Kingdom and Brussels have been locked in negotiations since last July over the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the withdrawal agreement that requires all goods going from the British mainland to Northern Ireland to comply with customs rules and EU regulations.
Despite agreeing to the agreement in October 2019, Frost declared the agreement ‘unsustainable’ and called for a fundamental rewriting of the protocol, including the removal of oversight from the European Court of Justice.
The European Commission is working on a new set of proposals to alleviate some of the problems caused by the deal, which diplomats expect to be presented later this month.
However, Frost indicated that the United Kingdom had low expectations of the Brussels package and was prepared to unilaterally suspend parts of the agreement, using a mechanism in the protocol known as Article 16.
‘We are awaiting a formal EU response to our proposals. But from what I hear, I’m worried that we will not find one that makes the significant change possible, ”he said, adding that he sent legal texts to the commission based on the solutions. set out by the United Kingdom in July.
Officials from both sides said negotiators remain far apart. In a closed-door meeting with MPs last week, EU Brexit commissioner Maros Sefcovic made it clear that the bloc is open to ‘creative solutions’ to the deviation, but only within the legal framework of the existing agreement.
Among the ideas are long-term legislative solutions for the supply of medicines and new efforts to facilitate trade in animal and animal health in Northern Ireland. But the British effort to deprive the HvJ of its role was not an appetizer, Brussels insisted.
British officials have also said London will not allow a foreign court to oversee an internal trade border in the Irish Sea. Instead, they want an independent arbitration mechanism. “We need to set a goal that trade with Belfast is the same as trade with Birmingham,” one said.
After the Brussels counter-proposal was put forward, it was expected to lead to a series of intensive negotiations in late October or early November, officials said. Failure to reach an agreement is likely to result in the implementation of Article 16, a clause which may be invoked by both parties if they consider that the Protocol is causing ‘economic, social or environmental problems’.
The UK said in July that the threshold for using Article 16 had already been reached, but that it was delaying its use to find solutions. The EU has for the same reason postponed legal action he took earlier this year for contravening the provisions of the protocol by the United Kingdom.
Once in force, Article 16 would lead to a further series of negotiations and, if no agreement is reached, possible legal and trade sanctions. EU officials said Brussels’ response to the British appeal to Article 16 depended on whether London used it to address narrow and specific issues, or took a broader approach and completely suspended Irish border controls.
If the UK goes too far, there is a risk of broader trade retaliation and diplomatic outbursts, officials said.
The French Minister for Europe, Clément Beaune, warned in an interview with the FT that the Article 16 call ‘could kill the agreement’, including elements of the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement. He added that Paris hopes the UK will not take this step.
‘It would show anyway [the UK] “does not want to respect the agreements we have signed, that is to say the withdrawal agreement and the trade and partnership agreement – and this would also be a major breach of trust, as well as a mistake for the stability of Ireland,” he said. .
But London is under pressure from the Protestant trade union parties in Northern Ireland, who have rejected the protocol as an attack on the place of their community in the UK and want to destroy it.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, has threatened to overthrow the executive of Northern Ireland as soon as this month by removing his ministers unless the protocol is followed.
Doug Beattie, the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, told the FT that it did not go far enough to activate Article 16. “It could address a lot of issues in the protocol and start a negotiation process, but it is not a long-term solution,” he said.
Officials on both sides have said the next few months will be crucial for the normalization of EU-UK relations, which have been poisoned by the issuance of the protocol since January.
Frost acknowledges that an agreement is essential for the restoration of ‘friendly relations’ with Brussels, adding:’ But we can not wait forever. Without an agreed solution soon, we will have to act in accordance with the Article 16 protection mechanism. ”