The Brexit minister promises to deal with “interesting” EU proposals “seriously, comprehensively and positively”, but says that they may not work “in the first round”.
Boris Johnson’s Brexit boss has opened the door for negotiations to “fix” an important agreement on Northern Ireland and promised to deal “seriously, comprehensively and positively” with the EU proposals.
Brexit Minister Lord Frost described Brussels’ plans to rethink the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol, which he negotiated in 2019, as “interesting” but admitted that they may not be the basis for a solution “in the first round of talks ” form.
In a key speech in Portugal, the peer also tried to reassure the EU that he was not trying to increase tension for Tory win and insisted that “there is no electoral dividend if you talk endlessly about Brexit”.
It came after turbulent days in which EU officials reacted furiously to new demands from Lord Frost to remove oversight of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from the minutes.
Ireland accused the peer of deliberately trying to bring about a “breakdown in relations” with a demand that it knew the EU could not accept as a pretext for unilateral suspension of the protocol.
The timing ahead of the EU’s own proposals, due to be released on Wednesday, also angered EU figures who believe their own plans to end the so-called “sausage war” by easing border controls on food and medicines matter and should allay many British concerns.
Speaking to the Lisbon audience, Lord Frost announced that he had submitted his own legal text to the EU for a new protocol that would mean goods could move “more or less freely” around the UK, and most importantly, that would be the role of the ECJ through “international arbitration”.
But the minister also tried to adopt a more conciliatory tone.
“We are now approaching a crucial couple of weeks,” he said.
“We await the proposals that will come tomorrow from Maroš Šefčovič and the European Commission in response to our ideas.
“To be clear, we will really be ready to discuss them – whatever they say – and of course we will look at them seriously, fully and positively.
“But – I repeat – if we want to come to a solution, we have to bring about significant changes together.”
When asked, Lord Frost later replied: “What we hear (the EU proposals) is interesting, we will talk about it, even if I fear it will not work in the first round.”
The protocol aims to avoid a hard border with Ireland and effectively keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s internal market for goods.
The result is a barrier to trade in products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
However, Lord Frost has argued that the EU’s “harsh” interpretation of the agreements threatens trade, stability and peace in Northern Ireland.
This story has been updated.