Negotiations between the UK and EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol are expected to run into December as both sides push for an agreement to end trade frictions. The two sides have been engaging in intense discussions since the start of October after both Britain and the European Commission published their proposals to ease problems facing Northern Ireland.
Lord Frost has repeatedly warned the threshold for triggering Article 16, the legal way of suspending the Protocol, has been met and said he would use the mechanism if there was no breakthrough in negotiations.
At the start of October he said of the talks: “We need a short and intensive negotiation, and when I say short, I mean weeks, three weeks.”
But with the discussions set to now drag into next week, Unionists in Northern Ireland fear the Brexit minister will not follow through on his threat.
The DUP’s Sammy Wilson told Exress.co.uk: “I hope that it’s not rhetoric because the Northern Ireland economy is already being damaged quite significantly.
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“They reckon this year alone, in terms of trade, we’ve lost about £850million worth of trade and economic activity due to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“It is causing tensions in society.
“It is leading to a breakdown of the institutions and it could well lead to the collapse of Stormont.
“I think that Lord Frost has to understand this has to be more than rhetoric, it’s got to be dealing with a real issue.”
Yesterday Lord Frost attempted to ease concerns among Brexiteers and Unionists that he would not stand up to the EU.
He said the European Commission should ignore media reports claiming he was not prepared to trigger Article 16 ahead of Christmas.
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“I would suggest our friends in the EU don’t interpret the reasonable tone that I usually use in my discussions with them as implying any softening in the substantive position.”
He added: “But I want to be clear that as the responsible minister, I would not recommend any outcome for the negotiations that I did not believe safeguarded political, economic, or social stability in Northern Ireland.
“In such circumstances we would obviously need to provide the necessary safeguards using Article 16.
“Those safeguards remain very much on the table and they are a legitimate provision in the Protocol.
“No decision has been taken to exclude or apply any specific timing for Article 16.
“That will be shaped by whether, and how quickly, negotiations make progress.”
Lord Frost will today hold further talks with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.
The Brexit minister and his team will head to Brussels to hold talks face to face.