LONDON (AP) – Britain’s Brexit Minister on Saturday warned of a long-term slowdown in UK-EU relations if the agreed trade deals governing Northern Ireland are not resolved.
David Frost said in a speech to the British-Irish Association at Oxford that the Northern Ireland protocol needed “substantial and significant changes”.
The post-Brexit trade deal between the UK government and the 27 EU countries imposed customs and border controls on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
In addition to seeking to comply with the rules governing the EU’s single market for goods, the regulations aim to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, a key pillar in the process of peace in Northern Ireland. However, they angered the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, which claims the controls amount to a border in the Irish Sea and weaken Northern Ireland’s ties with the rest of the UK.
“The stakes are high, the arguments can be bitter,” Frost said. “And I fear that this process may be capable of generating a kind of cold mistrust between us and the EU which could spread through the relationship.”
Frost demanded for months changes to the protocol, which he helped craft, but the EU has repeatedly rejected reopening talks after years of protracted negotiations.
“This holds back the potential for a new era of cooperation between like-minded states in a world that needs us to work together effectively,” said Frost.
Although Frost stressed the need for changes, he sought to downplay concerns within the EU that Britain unilaterally seeks to wipe out all existing agreements.
“This is not our position,” he said. “It is obvious that there will always be a treaty relationship between the UK and the EU covering Northern Ireland. It’s about finding the right balance.
Britain officially left the EU in January 2020, but remained in its economic orbit until early this year, when a new, much looser free trade deal came into force.
At that time, Northern Ireland was given a separate status which effectively keeps it in the EU’s single market for goods, a move that prevents a hard border with Ireland, which would run counter to the 1998 Good Friday accord that ended decades of sectarian violence.
Ultimately, the British Conservative government seeks to remove most controls, replacing them with a “light” system in which only goods at risk of entering the EU would be inspected.
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