EU refuses to budge on Protocol as Frost admits “difficult issues remain”

The European Commission reiterated its full commitment to the hated Northern Ireland Protocol on Thursday after Britain’s co-chair to the EU-UK Joint Committee Lord Frost met his counterpart in Brussels for talks.

After discussing the future of the Northern Ireland arrangement over dinner at the Commission’s HQ in the Berlaymont building, both Lord Frost and the European Commission’s vice president Maros Sefcovic released statements that suggested there was much still to agree upon.

“The vice-president reiterated the EU’s commitment to the protocol, which is the only way to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and to preserve peace and stability, while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU single market,” the commission said in a statement.

Warning the United Kingdom against implementing unilateral action again, after its decision to extend the grace period on agri-food checks from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, the Commission insisted that “only joint solutions, agreed in the joint bodies established by the Withdrawal Agreement, can provide the stability and predictability that is needed in Northern Ireland.”

The Commission also revealed that Mr Sefcovic had informed Lord Frost that the EU will continue its legal action against the UK following alleged breaches of the protocol “for as long as necessary”.

The government’s response was more diplomatic in tone, indicating that “some positive momentum had been established” but emphasised that “a number of difficult issues remained and it was important to continue to discuss them.”

The two sides will intensify talks over the Protocol arrangements in the coming weeks, despite Unionists both in Northern Ireland and Great Britain wanting it scrapped.

Two separate legal battles are now taking place as Unionists challenge the extent to which the Protocol infringes on the rights of Northern Irish citizens.

DUP grandee, Ian Paisley has accused the government of treating British citizens in Northern Ireland like “foreigners in our own country”, filing a class action law suit as he insists ministers have the “power and the responsibility” to defy Brussels and “fix this.”