The UK plans to publish new plans aimed at overhauling the Northern Ireland Protocol later this month, ministers said on Thursday (8 July).
Speaking at an event hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank, Brexit minister David Frost and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, said that the Protocol was failing in its objectives to minimise the impact of Brexit on everyday lives and facilitate trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
“The current situation is not consistent with the careful balance in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and is not how the Protocol should be working. That political reality must be acknowledged and dealt with. This Government cannot simply ignore that reality and stand by as things become more tense and more difficult,” said Frost
The Protocol establishes an Irish Sea border on products from Britain, in order to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
UK officials say that they did not expect the Protocol to be implemented so strictly by the EU and have pointed to unhappiness among the pro–British Unionist community in the province as evidence that the Protocol in its current guise risks undermining political stability and the peace process.
The tough rhetoric, which Frost insisted was not aimed at the EU, is unlikely to be welcomed by the European Commission, which last month agreed to a UK request to extend by three months the grace periods on chilled meats travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland. The EU does not allow imports of such products if they are not made according to EU standards.
“The prize on offer for us all, if we can re-establish a new balance in a way that works for us all, is that we can set relations between the UK and the EU onto a new trajectory, one that moves beyond the current tensions,” said Frost.
Lewis added that the EU was being “intransigent”.
However, both EU officials and the UK’s opposition parties have accused the government of showing bad faith in refusing to apply and seeking to unpick an agreement which it negotiated only months ago.
Earlier on Thursday, Labour leader Keir Starmer accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of “risking through his dishonesty, the stability of the peace process” in Northern Ireland.
European Commission Vice-President Maros Šefčovič, who represents the EU executive on the joint committee which oversees EU-UK relations, last week told members of the Northern Ireland Assembly that the EU was “prepared to take bold steps”, potentially including amending EU laws, and be flexible if the UK committed to implementing the protocol in full.
He repeated the EU’s preference for a temporary Swiss-style veterinary agreement under which the UK would continue to follow all EU agri-food rules, a proposal which has been repeatedly rejected by UK ministers as amounting to a loss of sovereignty.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]