EU risks undermining Northern Ireland peace process, says Lord Frost

The European Union will undermine the peace process in Northern Ireland unless it shows more “common sense” in negotiations over post Brexit customs checks, Lord Frost has warned. 

The treaty established a customs border in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland to preserve the invisible border with EU member Ireland after Brexit. 

“Among the biggest of the issues facing Northern Ireland is the way the Northern Ireland Protocol is currently working,” Lord Frost said in an article ahead of talks next week with the European Commission.

The former Brexit negotiator said that the EU’s insistence on so many checks had led to “delays and complexity” for businesses and concerned unionists.

Lord Frost demanded a lighter touch on customs checks for goods from Britain destined only for Northern Ireland. He said the risk of those entering EU territory was small. 

Brussels insists the checks are needed to ensure that any products entering Ireland adhere to EU rules and standards and do not undermine the “integrity” of its Single Market. 

The European Commission began legal action against the UK after it unilaterally extended grace periods in the Protocol exempting some products from checks, which Brussels said broke international law. 

Negotiations over the implementation of the treaty have continued since then and are expected to resume next week. The commission has repeatedly said it is prepared to look for pragmatic long term solutions within the framework of the Protocol.

Members of Unionists against NI Protocol during a white line protest outside the City Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Credit: Conor Mccaughley/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Lord Frost said: “We urge the EU to work with us to embrace a common sense approach, focused on genuine problems, not on mitigating against risks that don’t exist. 

“Only if implemented in a pragmatic and proportionate way can the Protocol support the peace process.”

He warned that the Protocol “ultimately depends on the consent of the people of Northern Ireland”. Northern Ireland will vote on whether to stay aligned with some EU rules to prevent a hard Irish border in four years time.

He praised the small amounts of paperwork and checks on “huge shipments of bulk products from all over the world” into Foyle Port.

“In contrast, at Larne, every supermarket lorry from Great Britain carries up to hundreds of different product lines, each with their own documents, which the EU would want to see subject to checks, even when all the products are clearly destined for consumers in Northern Ireland,” he said.