David Frost: UK 'considering options' on NI Protocol
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For weeks Britain has threatened to take action on the Protocol, accusing it of damaging the UK’s internal market. But last week the row over the matter appeared to cool down slightly when the UK wrote to the European Commission to ask for an extension to the grace periods on certain customs checks.
Lord Frost’s letter was welcomed by the bloc after Britain previously left the EU enraged by unilaterally taking action to delay the implementation of customs checks.
The Commission said it would “assess this request” and would “set up a meeting as soon as possible” on the matter.
“The Commission has already indicated its openness to finding solutions in line with the Protocol,” it added in a statement.
However, just days after ministers appeared to partially appease the EU by asking for permission to delay the implementation of checks, Lord Frost has now hinted Britain will still take unilateral action if necessary.
He told MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee: “We haven’t made a secret of the fact that we find it hard to see how, as currently operated, important elements of the Protocol are sustainable.
“I don’t think that’s a new judgment.
“We have also said that we are considering all our options, and we are doing so.
“There is a real world timetable to things that needs to be taken into account when we do that.
“That’s where we are at the moment, we are actively considering the options to deal with a situation that is hard to see as sustainable.”
Britain and the EU have been at loggerheads over the implementation of the withdrawal agreement since the end of transition period at the start of the year.
The row has intensified in recent weeks due to the end of the grace period on the export of chilled meats at the end of the month.
Under the terms of the Protocol, from July 1 the transporting of sausages and other such goods across the Irish Sea will be banned.
Ministers have lashed out at the EU for being “purist” in its implementation of the withdrawal agreement and have said the Protocol is unsustainable in its current form.
They say the negative impact on trade risks undermining the peace process and Good Friday Agreement.
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However, the EU has demanded the Protocol be implemented in full.
The Commission launched legal action against the UK for delaying customs checks due to be implemented in April.
Any unilateral action to delay checks at the end of this month would likely prompt further retaliation.
Lord Frost insisted the impact on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland could not have been predicted when the Protocol was originally agreed.
“The basic problem is that the chilling effect on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is pretty strong,” he said.
“Until we began implementing the Protocol nobody could quite know that.”
The Brexit minister added EU needs to show “pragmatism and reasonableness” to find a breakthrough.
“If their approach is simply to say ‘you must just implement the EU customs code as if this were any other external frontier of the EU’ then we obviously have a problem,” he said.
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