British cabinet office minister Michael Gove has rejected the DUP’s call for the Northern Ireland protocol to be scrapped, telling a House of Lords committee that the British government wishes to avoid triggering article 16, which suspends it.
Mr Gove told the Lords EU scrutiny committee that he would listen to the DUP’s proposals “with close attention and courtesy”.
He said he was sympathetic to the position of people in Northern Ireland who found that the application of the protocol inconvenienced their daily lives. But he made clear that the British government had no appetite for pulling down the protocol by triggering article 16.
“We do not want to go there if we can possibly avoid it. We believe there are ways of working with the commission in order to resolve the very real issues that exist on the ground,” he said.
David Frost, Britain’s chief negotiator with the EU, said the first few weeks of the post-Brexit relationship had been bumpy, and he blamed the EU for problems over everything from Britain’s refusal to accord full diplomatic status to EU diplomats to the Northern Ireland protocol.
“I think it’s been more than bumpy to be honest in the last six weeks. I think it’s been problematic. I hope we’ll get over this. It is going to require a different spirit probably from the EU, but I’m sure we are going to see that and see some of this subside as we go forward.
“I think the EU is still adjusting somewhat, as we thought they might, to the existence of a genuinely independent actor in their neighbourhood, and obviously there’s been a certain amount of disagreement over the vaccine issues, which in many ways have created political difficulties on the EU side.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Britain’s environment, food and rural affairs secretary George Eustice said the EU’s ban on the import of some British shellfish was not consistent with the spirit of the trade and co-operation agreement agreed last Christmas Eve.
The European Commission said last week that a ban on British wild shellfish that have to be purified before they are ready for human consumption will remain in place indefinitely.
The ban affects thousands of tonnes of mussels, scallops, oysters, clams and cockles British fishermen sold before Brexit to EU countries, where they were purified before entering the retail market.
“These are a sector of the fishing industry where a large percentage is exported to the European Union. The EU regulations that are relevant, actually make explicit provision for imports to come from third countries, which is what the UK now is. So there’s no legal barrier at all to this trade continuing,” Mr Eustice told Times Radio.
“To date generally they have approached things in the spirit of the trade and co-operation agreement. But certainly their approach on the shellfish issue at the moment is not really consistent with that.”