TORY Cabinet minister David Frost has claimed that the Northern Ireland protocol agreed in the Brexit deal he negotiated “ended our constitutional crisis”.
However, he also appeared to threaten to unilaterally trigger “Article 16” – which would allow the UK to pause aspects of the protocol should they be causing “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties” - and blamed political opponents for its implicit failures.
As it stands, the NI protocol means that the border between the UK and EU exists in the Irish Sea, separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
It has proven extremely controversial with Unionists in Stormont, with DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson having threatened to collapse the devolved administration over it.
Donaldson (below) said the protocol “fundamentally undermined” the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and was having a “damaging impact on Northern Ireland each and every day”.
However, Frost claimed that the protocol had actually kept the UK “whole, free, and with real choices about our future” and that the protocol was actually “protecting” the peace brokered with the GFA.
The top Tory later contradicted his own claims, saying that triggering Article 16 and putting an end to the protocol may be “the only way” to protect peace on the island of Ireland.
In a speech given to the Conservative party conference, the former chief Brexit negotiator hit out at the EU Withdrawal (No.2) Act, known as the “Benn Act”. Passed in September 2019, this act put into law a constraint on the UK Government, making it illegal to leave the EU without a deal in place.
Frost branded this the “Surrender Act”, and blamed it for the failure of the Brexit deal he negotiated.
He said: “Yes, we agreed the protocol in that difficult autumn. We knew we were taking a risk, but a worthy one in the cause of peace, in the cause of protecting the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.
“It was the right thing to do. It ended our constitutional crisis, it meant our country could leave the EU whole, free, and with real choices about our future.
“Of course we wanted to negotiate something better, had it not been for the madness of the Surrender Act, we could have done so.
“So we worried right from the start that the protocol would not take the strain if not handled sensitively. As it has turned out, we were right. The arrangements have begun to come apart even more quickly than we feared.”
Frost went on: “We cannot wait forever. Without an agreed solution soon, we will need to act, using the Article 16 safeguard mechanism, to address the impact the protocol is having on Northern Ireland.
“That may in the end be the only way to protect our country – our people, our trade, our territorial integrity, the peace process, and the benefits of this great UK of which we are all part.”
He added: “I set out in July a set of proposals that would establish a new balance for a lasting future – and I will soon be sending a new set of legal texts to the EU to support them.”
Frost was made a Lord by Boris Johnson after the UK exited the EU, and given a role in the Cabinet. Like in the case of the recent appointment of Tory donor Malcolm Offord, Frost has never won a democratic election.