Boris Johnson and Liz Truss were urged today to show the “same determination” they have used to confront Vladimir Putin in Ukraine when it comes to Britain’s dispute with the EU over Northern Ireland.
Both the prime minister and foreign secretary warned Brussels this week that the UK is ready to scrap key parts of a post-Brexit deal.
There are now expectations that the Government will announce new legislation to set aside elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol within days, with claims this could happen as soon as Tuesday.
The longstanding dispute has taken on added urgency since the outcome of last week’s historic Northern Ireland election, in which Sinn Fein replaced the DUP as the largest party in Stormont.
The DUP has insisted that it will not re-enter a power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland until there is action on the Protocol.
And the unionist party confirmed today that it will not nominate a speaker for the first session of the Northern Ireland Assembly, as part of its protest against post-Brexit trade deals.
This will render the Assembly unable to function.
The EU has issued veiled threats of a bitter trade war with Britain if the prime minister goes ahead with unilateral action on the Protocol.
Meanwhile, there have been new suggestions that a post-Brexit US-UK trade deal could be at risk if tensions over Northern Ireland rise.
Lord Frost praised Boris Johnson and Liz Truss as “leaders” in Ukraine and urged them to “show the same determination in Northern Ireland”.
The prime minister and foreign secretary were praised for the way they stood up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Unionists are concerned that the Protocol has been detrimental to Northern Ireland’s status within the UK.
Conservative colleague Lord Frost, who was in charge of Brexit negotiations with the EU before resigning from the government last year, said today that ministers now have “no choice” other than to act unilaterally to annul the Protocol.
In an article for the Telegraph, the former cabinet minister revealed how he had previously contemplated ending talks with the EU and taking unilateral action last December, but decided against it due to worsening covid rates.
With Mrs Truss replacing him at the helm of UK negotiations and with Covid ‘in the rear-view mirror’, Lord Frost urged the Government to act now.
Stating that the Good Friday Agreement was “on life support”, he wrote: “There is an imminent threat to our ability to govern Northern Ireland and protect the economic, commercial and security interests of its people.”
“Obviously it is essential that the UK government is able to run the whole country properly. That is why it is necessary for him to act, and he has the absolute right and duty to do so.”
Lord Frost also offered a comparison between Britain’s efforts against Putin over Ukraine and the Protocol dispute.
“Sometimes governments and their leaders just have to do the right thing,” he said.
‘Fortunately, doing the right thing is often also the best thing for our country. Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have shown that they are leaders in Ukraine.
“Now they must show the same determination in Northern Ireland and finally restore self-government for the whole of the UK.”
The Protocol was designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit and imposed controls on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland.
But British ministers have blamed the EU’s ‘dogmatic’ and ‘rigid’ implementation of the Protocol for causing major disruption to trade.
The DUP and other unionists are also concerned that the deal has been detrimental to Northern Ireland’s status within the UK.
Mrs Truss this week had what was described as an ‘irritating’ phone call with EU Vice President Maros Sefcovic in their latest talks on changes to the Protocol.
The Foreign Secretary again criticized EU officials for not showing “flexibility” in resolving trade problems.
But Sefcovic hit back, raising the possibility of a bitter trade war between the EU and the UK if Britain goes ahead with unilateral action.
The Protocol dispute is also causing angst in Washington, with a delegation of influential US politicians due to travel to Europe in a few days for meetings on the Protocol dispute.
The Guardian reported that the delegation will be led by US Congressman Richie Neal, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which has significant power over future trade deals.
In earlier comments on the Protocol dispute, he has claimed the US “will not consider” a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain if there is “any danger” to the Good Friday Agreement.
Lord Frost stated that ministers now ‘have no choice’ other than to act unilaterally to annul the Protocol.
The prime minister will save a final decision on whether to go ahead with unilateral action on the Protocol until next week.
According to The Times, the decision will be formally announced on Tuesday.
Attorney General Suella Braverman, the government’s top legal adviser, has not denied reports that she has already approved the removal of much of the Protocol with emergency legislation.
Speaking on the BBC last night, Ms Braverman claimed that the need for UK action was ‘becoming painfully, seemingly necessary’.
His cabinet mate, Jacob Rees-Mogg, today condemned the EU for trying to make Britain “feel bad” about having left the bloc in the dispute over the Protocol.
The Minister for Brexit Opportunity and Government Efficiency told GB News: “I think he wants to make the UK feel bad about leaving the European Union.”
“And that underpins his whole policy and he doesn’t really care about the consequences of that.
‘We just have to get on with life and recognize that we’re staying. We have to make our own way.
“We are an independent country, and what the EU wants and thinks is secondary.”