U.K.’s Frost Says Northern Ireland Situation ‘Unsustainable’

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The U.K. government urged the European Union to show a “common-sense” approach to their post-Brexit future ahead of a key meeting this week, where the two sides will seek solutions to prevent further unrest in Northern Ireland.

“The EU needs a new playbook for dealing with neighbours, one that involves pragmatic solutions between friends,” Britain’s Brexit minister David Frost wrote in an article for the Financial Times, where he detailed the problems created by Brexit and their impact on Northern Ireland. “Not the imposition of one side’s rules on the other and legal purism.”

Northern Ireland has been a major flashpoint between the U.K. and EU since Britain quit the bloc at the start of this year, sparking violent protests in opposition to new border checks and customs paperwork on trade crossing the Irish Sea. Meanwhile the EU has tabled legal action against the U.K. for unilaterally changing the terms of their post-Brexit deal with respect to Northern Ireland, which has a border with the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU.

Clement Beaune, France’s junior minister for European affairs, hit back in response to Frost’s article, saying that the Brexit agreement’s Northern Ireland Protocol isn’t the problem, but instead “a solution to a problem that we haven’t created.” Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney also replied to Frost’s piece, rejecting the idea that EU inflexibility is the issue.

According to a front page article in Monday’s Times newspaper in London, U.S. President Joe Biden is set to warn U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson when they meet at the G-7 summit this week not to renege on the deal. Biden, who has often spoken proudly of his Irish ancestry, is expected to tell Johnson that the U.S. regards the accord as key to maintaining long-term peace in Northern Ireland.

Frost, who is due to speak with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic at the first U.K.-EU Partnership Council meeting this week, said Britain is implementing the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol and has made suggestions for how it could be improved.

He also said the British government had underestimated the impact Brexit would have on trade between the rest of the U.K. and Northern Ireland, and that matters could get worse in October when a waiver on paperwork for food products expires.

“Time is starting to run out,” Frost said, describing the situation as “totally unsustainable” if the EU doesn’t show more flexibility in how the protocol is enforced. “We need to see progress soon.”

Joao Vale de Almeida, the EU ambassador to the U.K., said there are currently low levels of trust between the two sides, and the EU is ready to use retaliatory measures against Britain if it doesn’t uphold their post-Brexit accord.

“If we need to get there, we’ll get there,” de Almeida said on Times Radio on Sunday. “We are ready for worst-case scenarios.”

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