Conservative Party conference 2021: Lord Frost says UK cannot wait forever for EU response amid Northern Ireland Protocol row

The UK “cannot wait forever” for a response from the EU to its proposals to change the Northern Ireland Protocol, Boris Johnson’s Brexit minister has warned.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Lord Frost said the government was prepared to invoke Article 16, designed to be used when the protocol is unexpectedly leading to serious “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”, over the row.

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The protocol is a key part of the Brexit deal struck between London and Brussels and is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Having negotiated and signed up to the arrangement, the UK has now put forward proposals to change it.

Lord Frost acknowledged that the UK willingly entered into the protocol, but claimed in his speech that “the arrangements have begun to come apart even more quickly than we feared”.

On the UK’s proposals, he added: “We await a formal response from the EU to our proposals. But, from what I hear, I worry that we will not get one which enables the significant change we need.”

Lord Frost called on Brussels to be “ambitious” and said it would be “no use tinkering around the edges”.

“We need significant change. If we can agree something better, we can get back to where we wanted to be – an independent Britain with friendly relations with the EU based on free trade,” he continued.

“But we cannot wait forever. Without an agreed solution soon, we will need to act, using the Article 16 safeguard mechanism, to address the impact the protocol is having on Northern Ireland.

“That may in the end be the only way to protect our country – our people, our trade, our territorial integrity, the peace process, and the benefits of this great UK of which we are all part.”

Lord Frost described Brexit as the “beginning of a great voyage for our country”.

“Yes there will be some rough waters along the way. But we will choose for ourselves how to steer our ship,” he said.

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