EU capitals have responded to comments by Brexit Secretary Lord David Frost that the bloc needs to make more concessions on Northern Ireland, a sign of rising tension ahead of high-level meetings between the EU and the UK this week.
Frost, write in financial times On Sunday, the European Union called for a show of “common sense” and a loosening of controls on the trade border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain while slamming what it said was the bloc’s “legal purge”.
“The EU needs new evidence for dealing with neighbours,” Frost wrote, adding that he hopes to “see progress” at meetings in London on Wednesday with EU Commissioner on Brexit, Maros Sefkovic.
But the comments have been poorly received in the European Union, which argues it has been working extensively to fix the difficulties businesses and individuals face in Northern Ireland due to post-Brexit customs and the veterinary border between the region and Great Britain.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Twitter that Frost “continues to blame the difficulty of the protocol for the inflexibility of the EU. This is simply not the case.”
Noting that the EU side has “continually proposed new solutions,” Coveney said, “is this about media messaging in the UK or really solving problems together?”
France’s Europe Minister Clement Bonn also disputed Frost’s comments, saying the system of post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland – which was created to avoid a difficult border on the island itself – “cannot be called into question”.
The Northern Ireland protocol enshrined in Britain’s Brexit treaty with the European Union “is not the problem. It’s the solution to a problem we didn’t create,” Boone said.
The cross-channel sparring highlights the difficult conversations that await protocol. Boris Johnson forged the order with the European Union during negotiations in 2019, but the real-world difficulties arising from the arrangements have become politically troublesome in the region.
Britain has blamed legal inflexibility by the European Union, which has argued that checks are important to protect its internal market from fraud and smuggling.
Brussels, in turn, highlighted the UK’s refusal to sign a Swiss-style veterinary agreement with the European Union that would eliminate the need for numerous checks. EU officials also complained about Britain’s slow progress in meeting its commitments, including providing real-time access to customs data.
Day-to-day problems with the protocol ranged from legal hurdles with the delivery of generic drugs to administrative barriers to traveling with guide dogs, as well as with more general issues around the paperwork needed to transport food and live animals.
The European side has insisted in recent days that it is doing everything in its power, including showing “creativity” around the protocol, trying to find solutions to problems on the ground.
Sefcovic highlighted efforts to facilitate travel between Great Britain and Northern Ireland for guide dogs, and to reduce burdensome labeling arrangements for live animals.
EU officials also point to Brussels’ efforts to find a drug solution, as the problem stems from EU rules regarding regulatory licenses needed for drug companies to sell such products on the single market, including in Northern Ireland.
But Brussels is becoming increasingly frustrated with what it sees as Britain’s slowdown in addressing EU concerns.
“Patience is running out,” an EU official said on Friday. “We’ve worked hard behind the scenes to find creative solutions but we need the UK side to stick to its side of the deal – we need trust. Trust is the precondition for us to be able to roll out the new solutions.”
Diplomats from the European Union and the European Commission are set to discuss preparations for this week’s talks with Frost at a meeting of the bloc’s UK working group this afternoon.