View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

Is David Frost making empty threats about tearing up the Northern Ireland protocol?

The chaos of triggering Article 16 may be easier for Boris Johnson to survive than having to explain the widening gulf between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

By Stephen Bush

I’ll scream and scream until I’m sick! That’s what David Frost, the government’s de facto Brexit Secretary, warned the European Union in his conference speech today – or words to that effect.

He is warning that the Northern Ireland protocol is not working and that the United Kingdom is contemplating triggering Article 16, essentially exiting the protocol and with it sparking an almighty row about international law and a potential trade war. But part of the problem is that most of the EU27 don’t regard the threat as serious (and, indeed, most EU member states have no appetite to reopen the question of the Irish border at all, as the only solution other than the protocol would be something that took a big bite into the single market and customs union, as Theresa May’s backstop did).

Are they right? On the one hand, this isn’t the first or even the second time David Frost has warned that the protocol isn’t working and that the British government could trigger Article 16, and it hasn’t done it yet. There’s a “but” coming, though. Downing Street’s objection to the Northern Ireland protocol is genuine, and the fuel crisis may have changed the balance of opinion within the government about the risks or otherwise of triggering the protocol.

Why? Because, although it has largely gone unnoticed, a subplot of the HGV driver shortage and the resulting fuel crisis is that the shortages haven’t affected Northern Ireland, because the protocol means Northern Ireland essentially has a different Brexit deal from the rest of the United Kingdom. Rightly or wrongly, Labour ministers believe that condemning the Brexit deal rather than Brexit itself will allow them to attack the government without being seen as Brexit wreckers. From the government’s perspective, the chaos that would arise from triggering Article 16 may be easier to survive politically than having to explain the widening gulf emerging between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, as the former remains in the EU de facto if not de jure, while the latter’s promised “British renaissance” fails to arrive.

[See also: What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?]

Select and enter your email address The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Content from our partners
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE
Labour's health reforms can put patients first
Data science can help developers design future-proof infrastructure

Select and enter your email address The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU