‘Time Is Running Out’ in Brexit Row Over N. Ireland, Frost Says
(Bloomberg) -- Talks aimed at resolving the dispute over post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland are failing to make progress and running out of time, British minister David Frost said.
Speaking to a committee in Parliament in London, Frost said the government was “extremely concerned” over the risks to political stability in the region and a solution to the dispute with the European Union must be found soon.
Frost repeated Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s threat to suspend parts of the Brexit divorce agreement if the EU does not change its approach to checks on goods entering Northern Ireland.
The U.K. unilaterally extended a grace period waiving border checks on some goods earlier this year, prompting the EU to start legal proceedings. The European Commission has said it may take tougher action unless Britain complies with the terms of the deal when the current arrangements expire on June 30.
Talks between British and EU officials are “not making much progress” and “time is running out,” Frost told the Northern Ireland affairs committee.
The U.K. has opted not to introduce some checks on goods crossing into Northern Ireland, saying the EU’s strict approach to enforcing the rules is hurting local communities. The EU, which is Britain’s largest trading partner, says the U.K. is failing to implement the terms of the Brexit deal Johnson signed less than two years ago.
Under the terms of the Brexit accord, Northern Ireland -- unlike the rest of the U.K. -- remained under the EU’s customs and single market rules to avoid creating a visible border with the Irish Republic, a move that would risk reviving sectarian conflicts.
Frost said “goods are not flowing quite as they should” because there is a “chilling effect” on companies seeking to send goods to Northern Ireland from mainland Britain.
He said he wanted to strike a deal with the EU that would deliver the “light touch” arrangements for border checks that the U.K. expected would apply.
Britain has put forward lots of proposals, for example for a trusted trader program, but the EU hasn’t responded, he said. Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic was in London for talks last week.
“Our frustration and the frustration that comes out of some of the comments is that we feel we are not getting much traction,” Frost said.
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