EU-Britain relations risk further deterioration after the Brexit minister accused Brussels of behaving “without regard to the enormous political, economic and identity-sensitive sensitivity” of Northern Ireland.
David Frost said the bloc had “destroyed consent across communities” with an “excessively strict” enforcement of the arrangements set out in the January 2020 withdrawal agreement.
His comments, in a preface to a new paper for the Policy Exchange think tank, were published days after another week of talks between the two sides ended in stalemate.
He also formulated, in the clearest terms yet, a position in Downing Street that the terms of the protocol were imposed on Britain due to Theresa May’s weakness in the first phase of the 2017 negotiations.
Lord Frost said the joint EU-UK report, which set out the terms of the Article 50 EU divorce process, was a result of Britain failing to make “the necessary mental shift from being a member of the EU to negotiate exit from the EU ”.
The joint report was a landmark moment in Brexit history, marked by the May humiliation of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party in December 2017, just as she was signing it with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The then DUP leader Arlene Foster, who supported May’s government, told her she would not support clauses which meant Northern Ireland would remain in regulatory alignment with the Republic if the border issue could not be resolved in the second phase of the negotiations.
Days later, the section of the joint report was changed to accommodate the DUP, but the order of Brexit was set in stone, putting the Irish border solutions into the legally binding withdrawal agreement – Dublin’s point for maximum leverage – rather than future trade relations.
The fault lines generated by the sequencing appear to drive Frost’s demands for fundamental changes to the protocol.
He says he was considering resigning from his role as special foreign adviser to Boris Johnson, then secretary of state, after reading the terms of the joint report and realizing that “a crucial passport had been sold”.
Frost said the protocol agreed that December was a result of the British government’s “extreme weakness” following the June 2017 election. “We must return to the protocol and deliver a more robust and balanced balance than we could in 2019. . ”
The Policy Exchange paper – The Northern Ireland Protocol: the origin of the current crisis, by Roderick Crawford – provides a chronology of Brexit negotiations and what went wrong in 2017.
It claims that commitments, particularly at the Irish border, in the joint report were “a diplomatic triumph for Ireland and the Commission”, but that “failure to secure adequate mutual concessions was a dizzying failure for Britain”.