Brace yourself! Brexit trade war about to explode – EU fury mounts over Frost ultimatum

Lord Frost says negotiations will happen 'soon' with EU

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Lord Frost said the UK was ready to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol through Article 16 in order to safeguard the peace process of the Good Friday Agreement. In a keynote speech in Lisbon, the UK Brexit minister said the protocol, agreed with the EU as part of the UK’s divorce settlement, was not working and that fundamental change was necessary if it was to survive.

The special arrangement left Northern Ireland inside the EU single market for goods, meaning it follows the rules of the European Union in this area, in particular for animal products such as meat and dairy.

As a consequence, paperwork and checks are required for certain goods entering Northern Ireland from mainland Britain, to prevent it from becoming a backdoor for British goods such as sausages getting into the EU without checks.

On Tuesday, Tory minister Lord Frost shared the new proposals for an amended protocol in the form of a legislative text and demanded an end to the oversight of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the region. 

Meanwhile, the European Commission led by Vice President Maroš Šefčovič will set out their strategy on how to resolve a deadlock on the post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland on Wednesday in response to a Command Paper issued by Lord Frost in July. 

The Brexit minister said he we will “consider them [the EU’s plans] seriously, fully and positively” but refused to rule out igniting a trade war with the EU.

He said: “So, there’s obviously a couple of hypotheticals in there before we get to that point.

“It would be for the EU to decide whether it makes sense to retaliate.”

Ahead of the unveiling of the bloc’s plans, Brussels sources on Tuesday night confirmed an end to the long-running sausage wars by pledging an exemption to “national identity” foods allowing bangers and other products to enter the region.

The Daily Express also understands the European Union is prepared to change some of its laws to help maintain GB-to-Northern Ireland medicines exports but the Commission would require the UK to follow bloc regulations when they are exported to the region.

One source said the package of proposals from the European Commission was “generous” making clear the non-paper would “make the UK think long and hard”.

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They added: “We have bent over backwards for the UK and therefore Lord Frost should respect these proposals.”

European Commission insiders also refused to rule out the prospect to retaliate with “proportionate rebalancing measures” potentially sparking a trade war if London were “hostile” over the future implementation of the protocol. 

One source said: “If we are taken too far by the UK then we are prepared to act.” 

As the plans are unveiled on Wednesday, Mr Šefčovič is also expected to make clear that the UK has signed a “legally binding [international] agreement” that “cannot be completely scrapped.”

However, Irish politicians in Dublin and Belfast remain divided on how to fix the post-trading arrangements.

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DUP leader Sir Jeffery Donaldson said temporary fixes or tinkering around the edges will not resolve problems.

He said: “If it is not replaced, then it will condemn Northern Ireland to further harm and instability. 

“It is already costing us £850million per year and undermining the Union.”

Meanwhile, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar has warned the demand by the UK to end the role of the European Court of Justice in the Northern Ireland Protocol would be “very hard to accept”.

Speaking at a Dublin News Conference, he added: “The role of the European Court of Justice is there to adjudicate the rules of the single market.

“I don’t think we could ever have a situation where another court could decide what the rules of the single market are.

“I think that’s why it makes the most recent demands of the UK Government very hard to accept.”

Senior Irish TD Neale Richmond accused Lord Frost of “gross duplicity” and said his talk of a new legal text signalled a “worrying desire” to abandon the existing protocol.

The Fine Gael politician said: “To talk of an alternative protocol on Northern Ireland without so much as a jot of consultation with the EU, the Irish government or politicians in Northern Ireland, confirms a British Government still speaking to itself.

“Playing to a domestic audience, this latest Brexit lurch is an act of gross duplicity from the man who negotiated every line of the protocol, endorsed the protocol and sold it to the UK public in the first place.”

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