Boris Johnson’s government “has no option” but to tear up “part or all” of the Northern Ireland Protocol, former Brexit minister David Frost has said.
Joint efforts to resolve the issues with the post-Brexit arrangement governing trade in Northern Ireland have “reached the end of the road”, the UK’s former negotiator in Brussels insisted on Thursday night – urging the prime minister to take unilateral action even if it means “confrontation” with the EU.
But Lord Frost’s stark intervention merely echoed the prevailing brinkmanship which brought the prospect of a trade war several steps closer on Thursday, with the government’s chief legal advisor refusing to deny reports she had approved the scrapping of large parts of the deal.
Brussels’ Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic earlier warned the EU would not give in to “threats or blackmail” and pleaded for “constructive engagement”, following crunch phone talks with foreign secretary Liz Truss.
Setting the scene for unilateral action, Ms Truss expressed “regret” at the EU’s rejection of British demands to revise Mr Sefcovic’s negotiating mandate, but issued an ultimatum that the UK would have “no choice but to act” unless the bloc backs down.
Her comments are expected to be followed within days by the publication of emergency legislation to override key elements of the protocol which Mr Johnson negotiated in 2019 and signed a year later.
Despite warnings from both Brussels and Washington against unilateral action, it was reported on Thursday that the attorney general Suella Braverman had advised that it would be lawful to scrap parts of the protocol because of the “disproportionate and unreasonable” way it has been implemented – handing Mr Johnson legal cover to make the move.
Speaking to BBC Question Time hours later, Ms Braverman did not deny the reports, and – in a major hint that the government is set to act – said that, although “there is a decision yet to be made” within Cabinet, action is becoming “painfully, apparently necessary “
Ms Braverman has reportedly submitted evidence accusing Brussels of undermining the Good Friday Agreement by creating a trade barrier in the Irish Sea. She also warned of “societal unrest” in the region, which Ireland’s minister for European Affairs, Thomas Byrne said was “completely, completely and utterly incorrect”, in comments to RTE.
The attorney general’s assessment, however, echoed that of the prime minister, who told reporters in Stoke-on-Trent that the protocol has become a “real problem” which must be “fixed” because the “institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement” aren’t functioning” and political governance in Northern Ireland has “collapsed”.
Following last week’s historic elections, which saw Sinn Fein – which supports the protocol – win the largest share of the Assembly vote for the first time, the DUP are refuting to send a deputy to form an executive at Stormont until Westminster secures significant changes to the protocol.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /