Brexit: Lord Frost hits out at EU over Northern Ireland Protocol

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The UK’s Brexit minister Lord Frost held crunch talks with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels earlier today (Friday) as the two sides desperately try to thrash out huge disagreements over the Northern Ireland Protocol. But the latest round of negotiations ended in stalemate, increasing fears the UK could trigger Article 16 of the Protocol, which would almost certainly spark a furious retaliation from the European Union, namely a bitter trade war.

The UK Government said “Lord Frost noted that there remained significant gaps to be bridged between the UK and EU positions”, while Mr Sefcovic said “serious headway” needs to be made in the negotiations, although he did welcome a “change in tone” from Britain.

The intensive talks will continue, with the next round taking place in Brussels next Friday.

Following the latest meetings in Brussels, ITV News Political Editor Mr Peston tweeted: “Having heard the @MarosSefcovic press conference and read the @DavidGHFrost statement, it is clear that the decision by @BorisJohnson whether to trigger Article 16 and start a damaging trade war with the EU will almost certainly be a purely political one by him.

“Because Sefcovic and Frost are working to ease the friction on trade between GB and Northern Ireland, with the flow of medicines a priority.

“All will depend on two issues: whether Johnson regards it as a matter of overwhelming importance that the European Court of Justice should have no role in adjudicating on Northern Ireland European single market trade disputes, since the EU will not budge on this.

“And whether the putative domestic political benefits to him of having yet another punch up with the EU outweigh the inevitable economic costs of a trade war combined with the diplomatic damage of a further deterioration in diplomatic relations with our near and dear neighbours.

He added: “What I can’t judge is whether Frost’s more emollient language today and agreement to continue talking is a genuine de-escalation or a lull before the storm.

“I slightly assume the PM, who is hearing differing representations on this from his MPs and the Tories’ erstwhile allies in the DUP, hasn’t made up his mind.”

Lord Frost is calling for large parts of the trade mechanism to be completely overhauled, including removing the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which would act as the final arbitrator in any future trade dispute between the two sides.

He wants this key provision removed and replaced with an independent arbitration process.

But the EU is flat out refusing to cave to this demand, instead presenting a set of “far-reaching” proposals to the UK last month that ultimatley fell short of Britain’s expectations.

Following the latest round of failed talks in Brussels on Friday, the UK presented a downbeat tone on progress, with a spokesman saying: “Lord Frost noted that there remained significant gaps to be bridged between the UK and EU positions.

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“He noted that, as set out to the House of Lords on November 10, it remained the UK’s preference to find a consensual way forward, but that Article 16 safeguards were a legitimate part of the protocol’s provisions.

“Lord Frost also underlined the need to address the full range of issues the UK had identified in the course of discussions, if a comprehensive and durable solution was to be found that supported the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and was in the best interests of Northern Ireland.

“In this context, although talks had so far been conducted in a constructive spirit, Lord Frost underlined that in order to make progress, it was important to bring new energy and impetus to discussions.”

Speaking during a press conference, Mr Sefcovic warned “serious headway” needs to made before the next round of talks in Brussels next Friday.

He said: “We can and must arrive at the agreed solution that Northern Ireland truly deserves.

“That is also why I raised forcefully that we need to make serious headway in the course of next week.

“This is particularly important as regards the issue of medicines.

“An uninterrupted long-term supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is the protocol-related issue on everyone’s mind in Northern Ireland.”

But Mr Sefcovic added: “I acknowledge and welcome the change in tone of discussion with David Frost today, and I hope this will lead to tangible results for the people in Northern Ireland.”

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