EU capitals have responded to comments from British Brexit minister Lord David Frost, who suggested the blockade needed to compromise more on Northern Ireland, in a sign of growing tension ahead of meetings EU-UK high level this week.
Frost, writing in the Financial Times On Sunday, he called on the EU to show “common sense” and soften controls at the trade border between Northern Ireland and Britain, criticizing what he called “the legal purism” of the block.
“The EU needs a new game book to deal with its neighbors,” Frost wrote, adding that he hoped to “see progress” in the meetings being held in London on Wednesday with EU Brexit commissioner Maros Sefcovic.
But comments have been poorly received in the EU, which claims it has worked hard to resolve the difficulties that businesses and people in Northern Ireland are experiencing due to post-Brexit customs and veterinary borders between the region. and Great Britain.
Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, said on Twitter that Frost “continues to blame difficulties with the protocol on the EU’s inflexibility. This is simply not the case.”
Noting that part of the European Union has “consistently proposed new solutions,” Coveney said, “Is it media messaging in the UK or are we really solving problems together?”
French Europe Minister Clément Beaune also questioned Frost’s comments, saying the post-Brexit system of trade agreements for Northern Ireland – which was created to avoid a hard border on the island itself – “cannot be questioned.”
The Northern Ireland protocol set out in the UK’s Brexit treaty with the EU “is not the problem. It’s the solution to a problem we didn’t create, ”Beaune said.
Cross-Channel sparring underscores the difficult discourses that lie ahead of protocol. Boris Johnson created the system with the EU during negotiations in 2019, but real-world difficulties caused by the agreements have become a political pain in the region.
Britain has blamed legal inflexibility on the part of the EU, which has argued that controls are important to protect its own internal market from fraud and smuggling.
Brussels, in turn, has highlighted the UK’s refusal to sign a veterinary agreement in Switzerland with the EU that would eliminate the need for multiple controls. EU officials also complained about Britain’s slow progress in meeting its obligations, including real-time access to customs data.
The problems of the day with the protocol ranged from legal issues with the delivery of generic medicines to administrative barriers to traveling with guide dogs, as well as more general problems around the documentation needed to transport food and live animals.
The EU side has insisted these past few days that it does everything it can, including “creativity” around the protocol, in an attempt to find solutions to problems on the ground.
Sefcovic highlighted efforts to facilitate travel between Britain and Northern Ireland for guide dogs, and to reduce heavy marking arrangements for live animals.
EU officials also point to Brussels ’efforts to find a solution on medicines, where the problem comes from EU rules over the regulatory clearances needed for pharmaceutical companies to sell such products. on the single market, even in Northern Ireland.
But Brussels has become increasingly frustrated by what it sees as Britain’s slowness to address the EU’s concerns.
“Patience is gone,” an EU official said on Friday. “We work far behind the scenes to find creative solutions, but we need the UK side to stick to their side of the deal – we need trust. Trust is the prerequisite for us to be able to present new solutions.” “.
EU diplomats and the European Commission will discuss preparations for this week’s talks with Frost at a meeting of the bloc’s British working group this afternoon.