UK minister: Irish protocol spat risks long-term damage to EU relations

Failure to resolve a dispute over customs rules in the Irish Sea could damage U.K.-EU cooperation on global challenges for decades to come, the U.K.’s Brexit minister Lord Frost warned Saturday.

“I worry this process is capable of generating a sort of cold mistrust between us and the EU which could spread across the relationship,” Frost said in a speech. “It’s holding back the potential for a new era of cooperation between like-minded states in a world which needs us to work together effectively.”

The U.K. and EU are trying to iron out differences over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, which applies EU rules to goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain. It’s designed to protect the EU’s single market and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Since the protocol entered into force in January both sides have been mired in disagreement, with the U.K. pushing for far fewer customs checks. In what has been dubbed a “sausage war,” negotiators agreed not to apply rules on chilled meats until an already-extended deadline of September 30 and talks are continuing.

This year Brussels launched but then paused legal action against London over its refusal to fully implement the agreement.

Lord Frost said that “for now” the British government would not trigger a suspension or “sweep all the existing arrangements away” but he warned that the disagreement could have very serious consequences if left unresolved.

“When one looks at the protocol and sets it against other international challenges that we face, one wonders what future generations would say of us if we were unable to make the small muscle movements needed to get this right,” he said at a British-Irish Association conference in Oxford.

“We have no interest at all in having a fractious and difficult relationship with the EU or its member states, and with Ireland above all. Quite the contrary,” Frost insisted.

Speaking at the same conference Friday, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said commitments made under the Brexit deal must be adhered to. “A positive and constructive future partnership is in everyone’s interest. But it will only be delivered if there is a relationship of trust, and a willingness to deliver on commitments entered into,” he said.

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