The EU appeared to have “moved significantly” with its offer of a new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, Lord Frost said as he called for intensive talks with Brussels to begin.
In a sign that the threat of triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol had been put on ice for now, the Brexit Minister said he would work “very hard” to strike a deal with the EU.
The European Commission is expected to set out proposals on Wednesday that will dramatically cut the number of customs checks on British goods imported into Northern Ireland.
But Brussels is expected to reject a UK demand to strip European judges of their role overseeing EU law in the province, which continues to follow some Single Market rules to avoid a hard Irish border.
Lord Frost said: “We’re expecting proposals from the EU today, and obviously we will look at those very carefully and positively. We now need an intensive talks process and to try to find an agreement that everybody can get behind. That’s what we want to happen.
“Obviously, we haven’t seen what the Commission have put forward, I hope they have moved significantly, and obviously we will look at it positively if they have, but we’ll wait and see what they come forward with, and then we’ll see what we can do.”
Britain had demanded “significant” changes to the protocol, which created a customs border between Northern Ireland and Britain. Goods currently face checks to ensure they meet EU standards in case they cross the invisible border into EU member state Ireland.
The proposals could remove up to 50 per cent of checks on goods and about 80 per cent of checks for SPS, which are for animal and plant health. Goods destined for Northern Ireland only could go in an “express lane” when arriving in the province from Britain.
Brussels wants real-time access to UK trade databases in order to police which products cross into the Republic of Ireland, the EU’s external border, and for the UK to fully implement existing requirements in the protocol on border posts.
Speaking to broadcasters, Lord Frost said the Northern Ireland Protocol was “undermining” the Good Friday Agreement.
But asked if a compromise was possible based on briefings so far, he said: “So we really would like to get a consensus solution, we’re working very hard to get one, it’s obviously the best way forward if we can find agreement and build a new future for Northern Ireland.”
Lord Frost said the reach of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) was a key issue.
“The problem with the protocol at the moment is that EU law, with the ECJ as the enforcer of it, is applied in Northern Ireland without any sort of democratic process.
“So we need to find a solution everybody can get behind, and that means looking at some of the fundamentals, it means we need to get to a solution of significant change.”
It came as Dominic Cummings risked inflaming tensions with Brussels at a critical juncture by claiming the UK had never intended to stick to the deal it signed with the EU in 2019.
The Prime Minister’s former adviser and mastermind behind Vote Leave said it had always been the plan to “ditch bits we didn’t like” in the protocol after it had been negotiated.
His comments conflict with the Government’s insistence that it had negotiated the agreement in good faith and sought to implement it.
Dublin said that Mr Cummings’s comments were “alarming”, with Leo Varadkar, who negotiated the protocol with Mr Johnson when Irish premier in 2019, suggesting countries around the world should think twice before striking deals with the UK.
Mr Varadkar, who is now Ireland’s deputy prime minister, said: “I hope Dominic Cummings is speaking for himself and not for the British Government. But those comments are very alarming because that would indicate that this is a government, an administration, that acted in bad faith and that message needs to be heard around the world.
“If the British Government doesn’t honour its agreements, it doesn’t adhere to treaties it signs, that must apply to everyone else too.
“At the moment they’re going around the world, they’re trying to negotiate new trade agreements… Surely the message must go out to all countries around the world that this is a British government that doesn’t necessarily keep its word and doesn’t necessarily honour the agreements it makes.
“And you shouldn’t make any agreements with them until such time as you’re confident that they keep their promises, and honour things, for example, like the protocol.”