Boris Johnson’s new Brexit minister Lord Frost ‘believes Michael Gove was ‘too weak’ in dealings with the EU over Northern Ireland border row’ with his successor set to adopt a much more ‘hardline’ stance with Brussels

  • Allies of Lord Frost say he plans a more ‘hardline’ stance over Northern Ireland
  • Under agreement he negotiated, movements of goods have faced customs hell
  • There huge row with Brussels over attempt to use Brexit rules to block vaccines 

Boris Johnson’s new top Brexit minister believes his predecessor was ‘too weak’ in his dealings with Brussels over Northern Ireland.

Allies of Lord Frost, the former chief negotiator with the EU who was handed a Cabinet post this week, say he plans a more ‘hardline’ stance over problems that have plagued Northern Ireland.

Under the terms of the agreement he negotiated, signed by Boris Johnson in December, movements of goods to Ulster from Great Britain have faced customs log-jams. 

There was also a massive row last month when Brussels attempted to invoke part of the agreement to force the UK to divert coronavirus vaccines to the continent.

A supporter of Lord Frost told the Times: ‘He wants to effectively renegotiate the protocol so it does what the Prime Minister promised.

‘He thinks Michael’s been too weak on it and should have done more to capitalise when the EU almost invoked Article 16 [over coronavirus vaccine exports].’ 

Allies of Lord Frost, the former chief negotiator with the EU who was handed a Cabinet post this week, plans a more ‘hardline’ stance over problems that have plagued Northern Ireland.

The surprise announcement means Lord Frost replaces Mr Gove as chairman of the Cabinet committee tasked with implementing the Brexit divorce agreement.

The promotion of Lord Frost to the Cabinet Office prompted speculation that Scots born Mr Gove may be put in charge of a new Cabinet drive to stop Scotland breaking away from the UK.

The surprise announcement means Lord Frost replaces Mr Gove as chairman of the Cabinet committee tasked with implementing the Brexit divorce agreement. 

Mr Gove will keep his Cabinet table seat and as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster remains above Lord Frost in the Cabinet Office pecking order. 

The Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit agreement sees Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market for goods, to avoid creating a hard border with Ireland.

Products entering from Great Britain must comply with strict EU rules on animal and plant health.

Traders must complete new processes and checks to ship animal-based food products and plants across the Irish Sea into Northern Ireland.

Brussels announced its plans for export controls on vaccines last month.

It included triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which sparked fury in London and Dublin before it was swiftly reversed. 

It allows either side to unilaterally intervene if the measures are deemed to be causing a major problem but it is supposed to be a last resort. 

Checks at Northern Irish ports on goods travelling between Britain and the province were suspended earlier this month after anonymous threats from hardline loyalists were sent to EU and UK customs officials.

The European Commission last night pledged to find pragmatic solutions to trade disruption.

Vice president Maros Sefcovic is to establish a consultative group giving Belfast businesses struggling with the Northern Ireland Protocol access to powerful voices in Brussels.

On Thursday, he met company and civic society representatives to discuss implications of onerous paperwork requirements on suppliers from the rest of the UK which have delayed some Irish Sea shipments.

The DUP has vowed to scrap the mechanism ensuring there is no hard border on the island of Ireland and leader, and First Minister Arlene Foster expressed disappointment that Mr Sefcovic did not meet more unionists. 

Unionists and loyalists are angered at the imposition of economic barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Mrs Foster said: ‘I am somewhat disappointed to hear of the make up of the civic society group that met today. There were one or two unionists on it.’

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic is to establish a consultative group giving Belfast businesses struggling with the Northern Ireland Protocol access to powerful voices in Brussels

Checks at Northern Irish ports on goods travelling between Britain and the province were suspended earlier this month after anonymous threats from hardline loyalists were sent to EU and UK customs officials.

Among those present were senior Orange Order member Mervyn Gibson from East Belfast, who has argued that the protocol must go.

Mrs Foster added: ‘We shall wait and see whether Mr Sefcovic has listened to the concerns of unionism…we will only find out when we see what actions he takes.’

Stormont’s Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy said those reservations were listened to.

He added bodies like the Joint Committee between the EU and UK had been put in place in anticipation of difficulties with the protocol.

The Committee is due to meet next week. 

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