Britain's Brexit Minister Lord Frost delivered a defiant challenge to Ireland and the European Union over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was agreed upon just two years ago by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been trying to backslide on the deal ever since.
Frost told his Tory Party conference on Monday that the U.K. “cannot wait forever” for Brussels to respond to demands to change the Brexit deal in relation to Northern Ireland.
He issued a fresh warning he might suspend parts of the arrangements.
Frost’s resistance, supported by the unionist parties in Northern Ireland, came just two days after Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the EU cannot just do away with the Northern Ireland Protocol. It fulfilled a vital role in minimizing disruption on the island of Ireland caused by Brexit.
Coveney said an “ongoing standoff” on the Protocol was in “nobody’s interest” but “we need to be honest with people as well in terms of what’s possible.”
The Protocol is a post-Brexit arrangement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Coveney said the European Commission was “working to find common ground” and the Irish government was working with the commission to look at applying “maximum flexibility” in implementing the protocol.
He insisted that was not a renegotiation or a change of the Protocol. It was about applying significant flexibilities as to how the Protocol is implemented and having an open mind about new ways of doing things.
Coveney said in Cobh, Co. Cork, where he opened a hostel for homeless Defence Forces veterans, that the Protocol was a solution designed and implemented and ratified by the British government as well as the EU to try to manage the disruption of Brexit for the island of Ireland as a whole.
Frost told the Tory conference in Manchester that he could unilaterally suspend some of the current arrangements under Article 16 of the Brexit treaty if the EU does not respond.
He added, “So I urge the EU to be ambitious. It’s no use tinkering around the edges. We need significant change.”
Frost’s speech came as the U.K. continues to feel the effects of a fuel crisis and faces the prospect of shortages in the run-up to Christmas due to a lack of heavy-goods vehicle drivers, a situation Johnson over the weekend appeared to admit was a “period of adjustment” as a result of Brexit.
*This column first appeared in the October 6 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.