I have the greatest admiration for Lord Frost. I am sure that you remember those dark days when Olly Robbins was our chief negotiator during Theresa May's premiership. It appeared as if we were in a David and Goliath battle with the EU, and there was no doubt that we were not Goliath. Enter David Frost, as he was then after Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, and the mood music changed.
When Boris Johnson's 'oven ready' deal was announced I said at the time that Northern Ireland was being thrown under a bus. The deal was flawed. Something would have to be done about Northern Ireland if (and when) the EU didn't act in good faith. The rest is history.
I don't know Lord Frost, and I have never met him, but I suspect that he knew the Northern Ireland protocol would have to be revisited at some point if it could be proved that it would not work. From 1st January we have known that the EU is determined to effectively annex Northern Ireland. The EU wants to move it closer to the Republic of Ireland and in turn move it further away from Great Britain. Enough is enough. And now, finally, having exhausted other channels, Lord Frost has acted.
Here is part of his speech referring to the Northern Ireland Protocol:
"Maybe there is a world in which the Protocol could have worked, more sensitively implemented. But the situation has now moved on. We now face a very serious situation. The Protocol is not working. It has completely lost consent in one community in Northern Ireland. It is not doing the thing it was set up to do – protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. In fact it is doing the opposite. It has to change."
He went on to say:
"We put forward proposals to fix things in July. They are less than many in Northern Ireland would like to see. They do not sweep away the Protocol. They work with the grain of it. They do not require infrastructure or checks at the international border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – no-one wants this and we have always opposed it. They keep Irish Sea trade arrangements for goods going into Ireland and we accept a responsibility to implement EU rules for those goods. They allow both UK and EU-standard goods to circulate in Northern Ireland. They protect the EU single market - not that it is in any way under threat. But, crucially, they would allow goods to circulate virtually freely between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK - something that every other country in the world takes for granted."
Towards the end of the speech, he said:
"...this new Protocol is forward-looking. The original Protocol was agreed at a time when we didn’t know whether there would be a trade agreement between us and the EU. Many of the most unusual and disproportionate provisions were agreed precisely because we didn’t know what the shape of our future trading relationship was going to be. In the face of uncertainty the original Protocol defaulted to excessive rigidity - rigidity which is now needlessly harming Northern Ireland. We now know have a very far-reaching agreement between us, one which will regulate all aspects of our trade in the future. So it makes sense to situate the new agreement in that new trading context and bring it in line with those arrangements – they are after all the most significant signed by each party to date."
The EU has responded, but Lord Frost has said that a 'big gap' remains between UK and EU in protocol talks. Quelle surprise, as they say at the Berlaymont in Brussels. If you don't stand up to the EU bullies, they will eat you alive. I suspect that a deal will be agreed within a month.
For the full speech by Lord Frost, please click on this link: