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

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Despite a possible breakthrough in negotiations over the Northern Ireland chapter of the Brexit deal this weekend, it appears the EU is preparing the legal framework to allow Brussels to impose sanctions on UK exports before Christmas, should talks break down once more. The European Commission is expected to present the draft retaliation package to EU member states on Tuesday.

Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič told EU ambassadors that a list of sanctions options will be presented to EU countries to debate, Politico reports.

Other possible retaliation measures being considered include a suspension of the Brexit deal entirely, though this is thought to be less likely as it would have a knock-on effect for European economies too.

The EU will be hoping the threat of retaliation would be enough to deter the UK from following through on threats to suspend Northern Ireland trade checks agreed by both sides in the Brexit deal.

Both sides have spent months locked in intense talks about the Northern Ireland border.

The protocol is intended to keep Northern Ireland aligned with the EU’s single market for goods to ensure free trade across the Irish border and prevent a hard border while maintaining Northern Ireland’s status as a part of the United Kingdom.

Exactly how to achieve this has proved near impossible since long before the Brexit deal was struck.

What was eventually agreed between the two sides has proved immensely unpopular in Northern Ireland, with the UK Government now arguing it needs to be amended as it causes unnecessary bureaucracy for goods moving to the region from Great Britain.

On Friday, the EU welcomed the UK’s “change of tone” over the row, with Mr Šefčovič saying his conversation with the UK’s Brexit minister, David Frost, had been positive.

He told a press conference in London: “I acknowledge and welcome the change in tone of discussion with David Frost Friday and I hope this will lead to tangible results for the people in Northern Ireland.”

However, both sides have said this is not necessarily the turning point everyone hopes for.

Mr Šefčovič said that while the talks had been positive, the negotiations – due to continuing in Brussels this week – must intensify greatly to get anything over the line.

And Lord Frost believed there remained “significant gaps to be bridged,” according to a British government official.

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Last week, Lord Frost warned Brussels against taking “massive and disproportionate retaliation.”

If retaliations do come, they will do so before December 31, when a grace period on the movement of drugs between Great Britain and the island of Ireland is due to end.

Mr Šefčovič said: “We need to make serious headway in the course of the next week.

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

The Commission also wants to accelerate discussions on reducing customs red-tape for businesses trading between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, Mr Šefčovič said.

He insisted the EU will not accept proposals to change the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union in overseeing EU law in Northern Ireland.

During the meeting, Mr Frost noted said the UK’s preference was a “consensual way forward” while still considering Article 16 a “legitimate part” of the protocol, according to an official.

The official added the talks “had so far been conducted in a constructive spirit,” but Mr Frost had told his EU counterpart that in order to make progress “it was important to bring new energy and impetus to discussions.”

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