The government will set out its plans for post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland within the next two weeks – as Labour claimed trust in Boris Johnson over the issue had fallen to “an all-time low”.
At the end of last month, the UK and EU agreed a three-month extension to a grace period to avert a ban on chilled meats – such as sausages – moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
After the extension was agreed, the UK government said it would work “energetically” with the EU to find a permanent solution to the “sausage war”, as well as wider issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol is designed to avoid a post-Brexit hard border on the island of Ireland and is a key part of the UK’s divorce deal with the EU.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the current implementation of the protocol – which keeps Northern Ireland within much of the EU’s single market and customs rules – is having a “damaging impact” on the people of Northern Ireland.
Speaking on Thursday, Brexit minister Lord Frost said he was “confident” that the “necessary adjustments” to the implementation of the protocol could be found.
He told the Policy Exchange think tank that the UK government was “considering our next steps” and “discussing with all those with an interest”.
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And Lord Frost announced that ministers would “set out our approach” to parliament “in a considered way” before MPs head off on their summer break from Westminster on 22 July.
“The prize on offer for us all, if we can re-establish a new balance in a way that works for us all, is that we can set relations between the UK and the EU on to a new trajectory, one that moves beyond the current tensions, one that moves beyond the challenges of the last few years, and realises the real, genuine potential for friendly co-operation,” he added.
However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of having “abandoned the honest broker role” in relation to Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement.
Speaking on a two-day visit to Belfast, after meeting with the leaders of all five parties in the Northern Ireland Executive, Sir Keir said: “There are obviously concerns about the protocol, we’ve been listening to those concerns.
“We strongly believe that with political leadership, and a proper appreciation of the role of the British government as that honest broker, that those concerns can be overcome.
“The missing ingredient here is trust. Practical solutions require both sides to be flexible, practical solutions we think can be found – we’ve been talking about them today.
“We’ve come here not just to criticise but actually to talk through what the solutions might be. But the single most important ingredient in finding a way through this is trust.
“You can say trust in politicians is never high, but in Northern Ireland it matters, it really matters. And trust in the prime minister is at an all-time low here.
“He’s as good as abandoned the honest broker role that previous prime ministers, different administrations whether Labour or Conservative, have always seen as an integral part of progress in Northern Ireland.”