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5 things we learned on ‘bumpy’ post-Brexit relations from UK’s David Frost

Published: (Updated: ) in European News by .

Talks with the EU on Northern Ireland ‘not hugely productive,’ UK Brexit minister says.

LONDON — Britain’s relationship with the EU will be “bumpy for a time” but the country’s top Brexit minister, David Frost, wants to get it on a “decent footing,” he told MPs Monday.

Amid ongoing disagreement over the Northern Ireland protocol, the U.K.’s former chief Brexit negotiator faced a string of questions from MPs on the House of Commons European scrutiny committee. POLITICO walks you through the key points.

NI talks ‘not hugely productive’

Frost said there is “a bit of momentum” in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol, a cornerstone of last year’s post-Brexit trade agreement aimed at avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. But fresh from landing a combative op-ed in Britain’s Mail on Sunday, he said the discussions are “not hugely productive” yet.

Frost confirmed the European Commission had rejected U.K. proposals on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, a key sticking point in discussions over the future of the protocol. In order to reduce trade friction in Northern Ireland, Brussels has argued that Britain should commit to align with the EU on food, plant and environmental standards — a non-starter for London.

“Obviously, from the EU’s point of view the easiest solution to any border problem is that we should operate the same rules, laws as they do and that solves the problem,” he said. “Obviously, that doesn’t work for us. That is not going to be the solution.”

Frost said there were “well-precedented arrangements around equivalence of SPS standards” that did not require alignment but saw both sides “accept that you are pursuing high standards,” thereby reducing the need for checks. “We have consistently said we’d like to do something like that with the EU but they have not wished to do so,” he told MPs.

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He admitted “unsettledness” in Northern Ireland is higher than the U.K. government had expected. But he claimed this was in part caused by an “unfortunate intervention” from the Commission in January, when the bloc threatened to invoke Article 16 of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to control the export of coronavirus vaccines.

The U.K. has not ruled out taking fresh unilateral action on the protocol by triggering Article 16 if it is not possible to reach a deal with Brussels in the coming weeks — a message an Irish government official has described as “irresponsible.”

“We continue to consider all the options,” Frost said. “I’d like to think that if we were to take measures of any kind that support the stability of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, that the EU would not make that more difficult by reacting to it.”

‘Lighter’ regulation push

Frost told MPs he is responsible for making sure post-Brexit legislation announced in the queen’s speech earlier this month is “genuinely consistent with de-regulation and the spirit of Brexit and goes forward on that basis.”

He announced the creation of a new unit reporting to him, focused on regulatory reform in areas like financial services. Recruitment for the unit will start soon, he said, and it might be headed by someone outside government.

Britain wants to move on from the EU’s “very prescriptive arrangements” to “a lighter touch” approach to regulation, adapting to changing circumstances. This process might take some time, he said, but the government is “absolutely committed” to making sure the U.K. does not function as part of the EU’s “regulatory orbit.”

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Drugs warning

Frost warned there is a “risk of gaps opening up” in regulation between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., pointing to a row over the use of a new lung cancer drug.

The U.K.’s drug regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has licensed the drug, called Osimertinib, for use in lung cancer patients across the country but not in Northern Ireland. There have been reports this was not possible because of the grace period on medicines agreed with the EU, due to expire at the end of the year. But a spokesperson for the Commission denied this weekend that the Northern Ireland protocol is to blame.

Frost accused the EU of “asserting their right to regulate cancer drugs in Northern Ireland rather than the U.K. doing that”.

Bilateral deals up in the air

Frost expressed a desire to reach bilateral agreements with individual EU countries on issues left unresolved in the U.K.-EU trade negotiations last year, including on mobility arrangements for services and the return of asylum seekers.

But he acknowledged these conversations are at an embryonic phase despite appetite among some EU countries to get going. And he accused Brussels of getting in the way. “The Commission has ways of influencing that,” he said.

Gibraltar talks

Frost told the committee he expects to play an active role in the EU-U.K. negotiations for a treaty on Gibraltar, describing these negotiations as a “joint operation” with the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The treaty is expected to allow the British Overseas Territory to associate with the Schengen passport-free area — removing the need for a physical border with Spain.

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The Commission is likely to conclude its mandate for the negotiations this month, allowing for talks to start by the end of June, he said.

Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/david-frost-expects-bumpy-uk-eu-relationship/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication

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