Brexit warning for EU: David Frost ‘not here to solve problems’ as bitter feud erupts

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Downing Street has hit back at the EU and defended its unilateral decision to continue Irish Sea border grace periods until at least October. The first of the regulation schemes on goods had been due to expire at the end of this month. Supermarkets would have had to produce health certificates for all shipments of animal products since Northern Ireland has remained part of the EU’s Single Market after Brexit.

Lord Frost has insisted the intervention from the UK should allow for enough time for constructive talks with EU counterparts to take place.

The former Brexit negotiator in charge of developing the UK’s new relationship with the EU spoke to European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic about the ongoing situation on Wednesday.

But the EU chief is furious, and has said the UK is in violation of its post-Brexit obligations.

One senior official warned the situation is in danger of heading towards a “tumultuous period” – with Lord Frost and his new role being central to the problem.

Mujtaba Rahman, the managing director for Europe at political risk research and consulting firm Eurasia Group, wrote on Twitter: “Senior EU official tells me: ‘We’re heading towards a very tumultuous period. Frost is not here to solve problems’.”

The UK Government has hit back at the EU and defended its unilateral decision to continue the Irish Sea border grace periods until October.

Downing Street said on Wednesday: “He (Lord Frost) underlined that these were needed for operational reasons and were the minimum necessary steps to allow time for constructive discussions in the Joint Committee to continue without the prospect of disruption to the everyday life of people in Northern Ireland in the coming weeks.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said on Thursday: “We notified the European Commission at official level earlier this week, we also informed the Irish government earlier this week, and then Lord Frost last night in his call with Sefcovic obviously discussed this at length and set out the rationale and reasons for it.”

He denied the move was a breach of the post-Brexit trade agreement with the EU, adding: “These types of operational measures are well precedented and common in other international trade agreements and are entirely consistent with our intention to fulfil our obligations under the protocol in good faith.”

European Commission vice president Mr Sefcovic had claimed the UK was is in violation of its post-Brexit obligations and is threatening to break international law for a second time.

A Commission statement said: “Following the UK Government’s statement today, vice-president Sefcovic has expressed the EU’s strong concerns over the UK’s unilateral action, as this amounts to a violation of the relevant substantive provisions of the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland and the good faith obligation under the Withdrawal Agreement.

“This is the second time that the UK Government is set to breach international law.

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“This also constitutes a clear departure from the constructive approach that has prevailed up until now, thereby undermining both the work of the Joint Committee and the mutual trust necessary for solution-oriented co-operation.”

The move from the UK has also sparked a furious reaction from Ireland, with the country’s Foreign Minister warning the EU is negotiating with a partner it “simply cannot trust”.

Simon Coveney described the decision from the UK as “very frustrating”, warning the British Government is breaking the Northern Ireland Protocol and its own commitments.

He told RTE Radio 1 in Ireland: “This is not the first time this has happened, that they are negotiating with a partner that they simply cannot trust.

“That is why the EU is now looking at legal options and legal actions which effectively means a much more formalised and rigid negotiation process as opposed to a process of partnership where you try to solve problems together, so this is really unwelcome.

“It’s the British Government essentially breaking the protocol, breaking their own commitments again, and the EU having to then consider how they respond to that.

“They (the UK Government) have decided to act unilaterally, which is clearly in breach of the protocol and the commitments that have been made only a few weeks ago.

“Before Lord Frost had even spoken in detail to Maros Sefcovic in his new role, this was announced in a written statement by the British Government in Westminster.

“To say that is disrespectful would be an understatement.”

Mr Coveney also warned: “I favour engagement, and engagement on the basis of trust between both sides, but if the UK simply cannot be trusted, because they take unilateral action in an unexpected way without negotiation, well then, the British Government leaves the EU with no option.

“This is not where we want to be but it is where the British Government is driving us towards.”

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