The European Union has rebuffed a move by the London government to renege on Brexit and the protocol which could see it reimpose a hard border through the north of Ireland.
As London launched an attempt to rewrite the Irish protocol, there was an international effort to stop London from reneging on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement reached in January 2020.
In a statement in the House of Lords, Brexit Minister Lord Frost stopped short of ripping up the deal but said that London wanted to strike a “new balance” with Brussels.
A new British document called for health and safety checks on goods moving between the north of Ireland and Britain to be binned, alongside other elements of the North’s ‘special status’ with the EU.
In a sop to unionists, Brexit minister David Frost told the Westminster parliament “we cannot go on as we are” and unveiled his paper calling for “significant change” including a “standstill period” to maintain current grace periods and freeze legal action by the European Commission.
In response, European Commission vice president Maroš Šefcovic recalled that the protocol was a “joint solution” agreed with prime minister Boris Johnson and Frost, and that it had been ratified by the Westminster parliament.
“Respecting international legal obligations is of paramount importance.”
Sinn Fein’s Stormont junior minister Declan Kearney said the British government had agreed and ratified all elements of the protocol with the European Commission.
“It should now stop the evasion and get on with its implementation,” he said.
“It is not acceptable for the Tories to adopt an a la carte approach towards the protocol, to rewrite history, and now attempt a renegotiation.”
Mr Kearney added that London had “options available, and choices to make” which could substantially reduce the so-called ‘Irish Sea Border’.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the British statement was the “latest in a car crash attempt to distance themselves from an agreement they negotiated, campaigned for and signed up to”.
He said: “It is a shameless position based on political expedience rather than providing the stability that people, businesses and communities in Northern Ireland need.”
In Dublin, the 26 County government emphasised that any solutions to the difficulties alleged by the British government “must take place within the framework of the protocol and the principles that underpin it.”
But privately, Dublin government were reportedly concerned that the British are seeking to use the protocol to extract further Brexit concessions that they could not secure in the original negotiations.
Officials also pointed to the British threat to activate article 16 of the protocol – which allows for emergency suspension – as a poor basis for a renegotiation, and said tensions are expected to rise as the deadline for the ending of the current grace period approaches in September.
The US administration reiterated calls for the two sides to “negotiate within existing mechanisms” on the protocol. Congressman Brendan Boyle, who co-chairs the EU caucus on Capitol Hill, said that the proposal by the British government would further destabilise the north of Ireland.
Meanwhile, the anti-Catholic Orange Order called for an escalation of unionist opposition. It said would hold an “emergency meeting of the Grand Lodge” to endorse any agreed action.
Politics has “failed to rid us of this treacherous agreement” it said, while protests have been “ignored”.
“Peaceful, practical action is now required,” the order said, adding that it “will not be found wanting when it comes to defending the union”.