‘We never sulk’: Brussels shrugs off Frost claim of ill-will in Brexit row

The EU has rejected the claim by Boris Johnson’s Brexit minister that its approach to talks on Northern Ireland was driven by “ill-will” towards the UK, insisting: “We never sulk”.

David Frost made the incendiary charge in a newspaper article on Sunday, in which he claimed that London’s second threat to breach the terms of the Brexit deal which Mr Johnson signed with Brussels was “lawful”.

As Brussels threatened legal action over the UK’s plan unilaterally to delay agreed checks on supermarket goods and parcels, Lord Frost accused the EU of undermining cross-confidence in the deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol and called for it to “shake off any remaining ill-will towards us for leaving, and instead build a friendly relationship, between sovereign equals”.

But Mr Johnson’s government was today accused by Theresa May’s former chief of staff Gavin Barwell of “dishonesty” in its approach to the protocol, which created a customs border down the Irish Sea.

Lord Barwell said that the problems which had led to products missing from supermarket shelves and lorries returning empty to Northern Ireland were caused by the deal agreed by Mr Johnson which was “very different from the one Theresa negotiated”.

Mr Johnson “gave in to what the EU originally wanted – a Northern Ireland-only arrangement,” said Lord Barwell, adding: “That’s why we have the problems we do now.”

And the former civil service head of the Department for Exiting the EU said the Johnson administration was “burning” trust and goodwill with Brussels by “playing games around Brexit” for domestic political reasons.

European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer shrugged off Lord Frost’s accusations, telling a Brussels press conference: “We never sulk. We don’t have moods. We are an institution, so we try to work on a day-to-day basis with a very, very even temper.”

But former DExEU chief Philip Rycroft told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “It is deeply worrying and frankly deeply depressing that with the ink barely dry on the protocol and on the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, we’re already running into these sorts of problems. Brexit, far from being done, is going to be with us for a long time to come.”

Mr Rycroft said that problems in Northern Ireland were caused in part by the government misleading local traders about the likely impact of Mr Johnson’s deal, which requires time-consuming checks on goods moving from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.

“There are undoubtedly issues about the protocol,” he said. 

“Traders simply aren’t ready to do the things that are required on the protocol, not leastbecause the government spent the best part of last year saying to them they wouldn’t have to do anything, despite knowing full well that all of these checks would have to come in. 

“Extending those grace periods is not an unreasonable thing to ask for, butthe way that David Frost has gone about this, to tell the Commission he was unilaterally extending without doing his opposite number in the Commission the courtesy of picking up the phone, suggests that they’re still playing games around Brexit.

“It’s all about the politically attractive ploy of playing hardball with the EU, rather than accepting their responsibilities for the deal that he and the prime minister negotiated.” Mr Rycroft said: “This is a complicated deal, the Northern Ireland Protocol, it’s the least worst option, it’s there to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. 

“It is so important to the peace process in Northern Ireland that this protocol is able to work and that’s going to require a huge amount of goodwill and trust on both sides, I’m afraid that trust is being burnt at the moment.”

Lord Barwell said that Lord Frost was “adding insult to injury” for the people of Northern Ireland by refusing to acknowledge the barriers to trade that are the consequence of the Brexit deal which he negotiated, which “explicitly created barriers when goods move from GB to NI”.

The former 10 Downing Street chief of staff said it was “dishonest” to pretend that Brexit bureaucracy was not having a harmful impact on trade.

“The deal which David Frost negotiated does not keep ‘open and free trade’ between the UK and EU – it introduces significant barriers to trade,” said Lord Barwell. 

“Dismissing the difficulties he has caused for many businesses as ‘the details of customs and form-filling’ adds insult to injury

“His argument that setting your own laws in every area of national life is ‘vital to economic success’ will come as news to countries like Ireland that have grown strongly whilst members of the EU and music to the ears of the SNP.

“No-one is suggesting that bureaucracy prevents trade altogether, but introducing it clearly has a cost and it’s dishonest to pretend otherwise. If you think other benefits outweigh those costs make that case, but don’t pretend trade with the EU is as free today as it was in 2020.

“Why do you expect open and free trade within the UK? Our government signed a treaty that explicitly created barriers when goods move from GB to NI.”

More Stories
Northern Ireland: Police attacked with petrol bombs and bricks in another night of loyalist unrest