Brexit minister Lord Frost resigns from Cabinet
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The Government’s former Brexit negotiator has accused some EU officials of ongoing bad faith in a wide-ranging interview with The Telegraph. Of the UK’s current relations with the bloc, he said: “While I was in those [Brexit] negotiations, I often felt we weren’t being taken seriously, that the EU didn’t look on us as an equal negotiating partner, but as a kind of province or territory in which they expected to exercise exceptional influence, one way or another.
“That’s not how we saw it – and I wasn’t happy about it.
“I think the atmosphere is gradually improving, as certain people move on. But a lot of the EU is invested in Brexit failing.”
In a discussion on civil service reform, the former senior Foreign Office mandarin disagreed when asked if people in Whitehall wanted to sabotage Brexit under Theresa May’s premiership and since.
He said: “I wouldn’t say sabotage. But the intellectual midpoint of the Civil Service was that the European Union is a jolly good thing, and it was very bad that we were leaving – so it took time to get the system in the right place.”
Lord David Frost has exposed how the European Union is ‘invested in Brexit failing’ (Image: PA)
Lord Frost arrives at St Pancras station in London before travelling to Brussels for talks. (Image: PA)
Lord Frost acknowledges in The Telegraph that “there was obviously an attempt to stop Brexit after the referendum, with parts of our political establishment working in cooperation with some in the EU to have a second run at it”.
On Northern Ireland, which is still in the EU single market, Lord Frost describes it as “quite shocking” that Brussels has used the territory’s fragile peace as a bargaining chip when negotiating Brexit, in particular when Theresa May was Prime Minister.
He said: “One of the problems we had when we came in in 2019 is that a lot of the damage had been done, with positions of principle already conceded.
“We were extremely worried we wouldn’t get Brexit at all in any form, so we took the strategic decision to deliver it as quickly as possible, in a way that gives the country free choice about the future.”
Liz Truss hosts EU post-Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic at Chevening (Image: PA)
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney (Image: PA)
He added that under the Northern Ireland Protocol, in contrast with May’s Irish backstop, the Northern Ireland Assembly has the right to vote in four years’ time as to whether or not existing arrangements should continue.
The Government also has the right to invoke Article 16 of the protocol, which would bring the agreement to an end.
Lord Frost said: “It definitely has to be a real option for us. It’s always best to do things by negotiation if you can, but the way the EU is acting now makes no sense and it’s obvious the protocol must be changed significantly or replaced.
“If they insist on the goods moving into Northern Ireland as being like any external border of the EU, then it won’t work. That’s not what the protocol was designed to do.
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“If the EU wants a good relationship with us, they should negotiate and put in place something better.”
It comes as Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he wants to see an agreement on the Protocol reached by the end of February.
He said he does not want to see the Northern Ireland Assembly election in May become dominated by the “polarising” issue.
Since taking over Brexit negotiations after Lord Frost’s resignation, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss held her first meeting with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic this week.
Lord Frost arrives for talks in Brussels in December, 2020 (Image: Getty)
Mr Coveney, speaking on Friday, said the meeting marked a reset in the relationship between the EU and UK, which is now “in a better place” than seen “for a while”.
He said: “From my conversations with both sides, I think that process will be a very serious one.
“I think in people’s minds, really, we would like to have, if possible, these issues resolved by the end of February so that the elections in Northern Ireland can move ahead without being dominated by the Protocol issues, right the way to polling day.
“Elections in the North are often polarising enough affairs without having the added complexity and tension around the Protocol and its implementation.
“So I think everybody is conscious of their responsibility in terms of trying to bring some stability and certainty to Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit, and the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
Ms Truss said there is a “deal to be done” following her meeting with Mr Sefcovic.
However, she refused to rule out the possibility the UK could invoke Article 16 if a way forward could not be agreed upon.
However, Mr Coveney insisted the Protocol is here to stay and he did not expect the UK to remove the threat of Article 16 until a deal is agreed.
He told RTE Radio One: “The Protocol is there. It’s part of an international treaty, it’s part of international law.
“And so the focus really on the EU side is how do we implement this Protocol in a way that is pragmatic and flexible, and takes on board the genuine concerns that have been raised in Northern Ireland?
“I think if both sides work on that basis, there is a landing zone that can be agreed over the next six or eight weeks.
“As an Irish government perspective, we’ll be working to try to assist that process.”
Mr Coveney said he did not expect the UK Government to follow through on its threat to trigger Article 16, adding: “I don’t expect that the UK side will take something like the use of Article 16 off the table, until there’s an agreement. That’s just the nature of negotiations.
“But I have to say, I think the consequences of the triggering of Article 16, in a way that sets aside large elements of the Protocol would be hugely damaging to the relationships that we’re now trying to build to solve these issues through negotiation and good politics.”
Since its introduction in 2021, the Protocol has disrupted trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Unionists are opposed to the checks because they do not want Northern Ireland to be treated differently to the rest of the country.
The UK wants changes, including getting rid of checks between the UK and Northern Ireland.