Government refuses to publish Northern Ireland Brexit plan legal text for scrutiny

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Lord Frost made the comments in the House of Lords (House of Lords)
Lord Frost made the comments in the House of Lords (House of Lords)

Britain’s Brexit chief has refused to publish details of his plans for changes to the Northern Ireland protocol, despite having already shared them with the EU.

Lord Frost said the legal text – which opposition parties want to scrutinise – was not a “new stage or evolution in our position” and simply reflected the UK’s position set out earlier in the summer.

But despite claiming that the text contained nothing new, and having already shared it with Brussels, the minister said he would not be making it public or allowing parliament to look at it.

“It’s a negotiating documents for the purposes of negotiations. It does not change the UK government's position in any way,” he said.

Lord Frost also appeared to suggest the government had not explicitly consulted with ministers in Northern Ireland during the process of drawing up the final legal text.

Asked whether he had done so, he said: “We discuss with elected politicians all the time in Northern Ireland, what our position is. We did that as part of preparing the command paper.” The command paper was an earlier document published on 21 July.

Baroness Chapman, Labour’s shadow Brexit minister and Keir Starmer’s former chief of staff, criticised Lord Frost’s approach.

“Instead of making Brexit work, his high handed bluster and lack of plan is holding up progress and prolonging uncertainty,” she said.

“This is damaging the UK’s international reputation, risks instability in Northern Ireland and is all completely unnecessary. Perhaps he just likes the drama.”

Boris Johnson’s government negotiated the Northern Ireland protocol two years ago, but now wants to renegotiate parts of it.

The government blames the Brexit deal, which creates new bureaucracy for businesses, for disruption to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The U-turn comes despite Boris Johnson having previously hailed the deal as a great achievement, and Lord Frost having personally negotiated it.

The EU last week published a package of measures to change the protocol to reduce disruption to trade.

The measures, which would cut spot checks and reduce the amount of paperwork needed for lorries, were welcomed by the UK but did not however meet a British demand to remove NI from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The two sides have now sat down to discuss potential changes.

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