Reminders of David Frost’s dressing down in the Northern Ireland Assembly have resurfaced as Boris Johnson headed out for emergency talks.
The prime minister will convene political leaders from across the spectrum today in a bid to break a Stormont deadlock caused by post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The powersharing institutions have been plunged into crisis in the wake of the recent Assembly election with the DUP refusing to re-enter a devolved government in protest at the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol, which has created economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.
The prime minister’s visit comes amid heightened tensions between the UK and EU over the prospect of him moving to override elements of the protocol by way of domestic legislation at Westminster.
Brussels has made clear that such unilateral action to walk away from a key plank of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement would represent a clear breach of international law.
Ahead of his trip to Northern Ireland, Mr Johnson said the UK will have a “necessity to act” if the EU is unwilling to reach a compromise in the deepening row over the protocol.
Last year, former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost received a grilling over the Northern Ireland Protocol as he addressed the Stormont Executive committee.
Appearing in front of the Northern Ireland Assembly he said the UK government does not regard the protocol as ‘definitive’ – despite it forming part of an international treaty signed by the UK.
He argued that the protocol was difficult to operate because it enjoyed only 50/50 support among the Northern Irish public.
In 2016, just 44.2 per cent of people in the country voted to leave the European Union.
“Asleep at the wheel”
Taking Frost to task over the NI protocol, Sinn Féin former MEP Martina Anderson delivered a brutal take-down.
“You were Britain’s chief negotiator for Brexit,” she said.
“Your eyes were open and your fingerprints are on every page of the protocol… You weren’t asleep at the wheel. You knew that there were going to be trade adjustments – even the DUP knew there were going to be trade adjustments.”
Frost responded: “You’re absolutely right, I was the trade negotiator in 2019 and 2020”, but maintained “we knew the protocol was unusual in its construct” and insisted it was always planned “as a balance”.
“You have to read all of the provisions together. You can’t take one in isolation. It’s not reasonable to read it as a document which simply requires an EU external border to be established and that’s what’s happening.”
Ms Anderson disagreed.
“The reason it’s not working out is because you have not honoured it. We believe that the next agreement you honour will be your first.”