Brexit minister Lord Frost has said the UK and the EU “cannot go on as we are” with the current Northern Ireland Protocol arrangements, but that “now is not the time” to invoke Article 16.
Lord Frost told peers that the protocol arrangements need “significant change” and that proposals from the government will bring a “new balance” to the mechanism.
It comes as the UK government looks to overhaul post-Brexit trading arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to ensure the smooth moving of goods.
Lord Frost admitted that the burdens imposed by the Northern Ireland Protocol “have been a source of considerable and ongoing disruption to lives and livelihoods”.
“We have seen reductions in supermarket product lines, we have seen more than 200 suppliers decide they would no longer sell to Northern Ireland,” he said.
“We have seen difficulties not just on the famous chilled meats issue but on medicines, on pets, on movements of live animals, on seeds, on plants and on many others.”
But the Brexit minister stopped short of entirely ripping up the document or calling for the Article 16 provision – which enables either the UK or the EU to suspend part of the arrangements in extreme circumstances – to be triggered.
Lord Frost said “it is clear that the circumstances exist to justify the use of Article 16” but that “it is not the right moment to do so”.
He added: “Instead, we see an opportunity to proceed differently, to find a new path, to seek to agree with the EU through negotiations a new balance in our arrangements covering Northern Ireland to the benefit of all.”
If unresolved, the issue risk “being felt in the fabric of our Union too”, Lord Frost warned.
The Brexit minister then outlined the proposals in the UK government’s command paper which they hope will see “goods circulate much more freely within the UK customs territory while ensuring that full processes are applied to goods destined for the EU”.
The plan includes:
- Returning to a normal treaty framework similar to all other international agreements.
- Exploring “exceptional arrangements” around data sharing and cooperation
- Introducing penalties and legislation to deter people looking to move non-compliant products from Northern Ireland to Ireland
- Maintaining an open border without infrastructural checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
- Agreeing a standstill period including the suspension of all legal action by the EU and the operation of grace periods to allow continued trade of goods such as chilled meats including sausages.
- Scrapping the involvement of EU institutions and the European court of justice in policing and governing the protocol
“We believe such change is necessary to deal with the situation we now face,” Lord Frost said, noting that the UK government will seek a discussion on the proposals “urgently”.