Lord Frost today took a swipe at Leo Varadkar after the Irish premier admitted regrets over the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland. The Taoiseach said he regrets that the Northern Ireland Protocol was imposed on the region without the support of unionists.
But following Mr Varadkar’s comments, former Brexit minister Lord Frost highlighted how the UK negotiating team pushed for a consent vote on the Protocol at the Northern Ireland Assembly, but said the EU and Ireland “refused point blank”.
The Tory peer said: “Varadkar regrets the Protocol was ‘imposed on Northern Ireland without the support of both communities’.
“Yet in 2019 we argued for a Stormont consent vote on the Protocol before it came into force at end-2020. The EU and the Irish refused point blank.”
The Protocol was aimed at avoiding a hard Irish border, but it has been an ongoing source of tension as it has created red tape on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Many unionists in Northern Ireland are vehemently opposed to arrangements they claim have weakened the region’s place within the union.
The DUP is currently blocking the functioning of power sharing at Stormont and has made it clear it will not allow devolution to return unless major changes to the Protocol are delivered.
Talks are continuing between the UK and the EU to thrash out a resolution to the contentious arrangements.
In an interview with the BBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr Varadkar said: “I do have regrets and a regret that I have is that in the same way Brexit was imposed on Northern Ireland without the support of both communities, the Protocol was imposed on Northern Ireland without the support of two communities.
“And that wasn’t possible at the time for various reasons, in part because the Executive was not functioning, so there was no one to speak for Northern Ireland. But that has created difficulties.
“Economically broadly speaking the Protocol is working. There’s no hard border between north and south, the single market’s integrity has been protected and Northern Ireland’s economy is outperforming the UK economy.
“But I can understand how unionists and unionist politicians feel the Protocol has lessened the links, weakened the union between Northern Ireland and Britain.”
Mr Varadkar, who became Taoiseach for a second time in December, also said the EU was willing to be “flexible” and “reasonable” in negotiations with the UK to achieve “broader support” within Northern Ireland for the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
He said: “So, I understand that, and I get that, and I said that when I met the (Stormont) party leaders last week in Belfast.
“And that’s why, you know, I’m keen as part of the European Union that will be on one side of the negotiating table here with the UK Government to be flexible, to be reasonable, to see what modifications and changes we can make. That might ensure that we have broader support in Northern Ireland for the current settlement.
“It is the case that a majority of people in the (Stormont) Assembly support the Protocol, but the way for Northern Ireland to work well you want to have cross-community support, and we don’t have that at the moment.”
And the Irish PM said the prospect of London and Brussels striking a deal before the landmark anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement in April was “very real”.
He said: “I don’t want to be overly optimistic at this stage but I do think things are moving in the right direction, that the possibility of an agreement between the EU and the UK in the next couple of months is very real and , with reasonableness and flexibility on both sides, I think it can be achieved.”