As a general rule in post-Brexit politics, when David Frost makes a public intervention on the Northern Ireland protocol, it tends to dampen rather than soothe UK-EU relations. Frost, charged with improving the protocol, is a divisive figure in Brussels who is seen to catch flies with vinegar rather than honey. His speech was expected to be an escalation in the current war of words between the two sides. In the end, the talk itself was slightly less confrontational than expected.
Frost effectively declared the Northern Ireland protocol dead and called on the EU to work with the UK to come up with a new protocol to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. Frost argued that both sides had a ‘short, but real, opportunity to put in place a new arrangement, to defuse the political crisis that is brewing, both in Northern Ireland and between us’. He said that the new legal test the UK is proposing offered a ‘better way forward’.
As for confrontation, there were parts that will undoubtedly land badly with the EU, like the suggestion that the UK feels that the EU has used Northern Ireland to reverse the referendum result. There were also hints that the bad blood that has built up over the EU and UK’s differing views of the checks on goods.
But there was also plenty of honey. Frost said there was desire on the UK side for ‘friendly relations, free trade, and the chance to do things our own way, all within the framework of a meaningful and robust Western alliance’.
He said that rebuilding trust would take two: ‘It is not the responsibility of only one party. At some point we must both try to raise our eyes to the horizon, look at the possibilities for better relations, and try to help each other solve problems, not create them’. Will it move the dial? Tomorrow the EU will put measures on the table. That Frost used his speech to put forward a more diplomatic side is giving those keen to find a compromise some hope.
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