Former British Brexit minister David Frost has said it is “disappointing” the EU will not help resolve problems caused by the post-Brexit deal in Northern Ireland and “continues to be so unconstructive”.
The Conservative peer argued it was obvious the protocol needed fixing as he backed controversial plans by the British foreign secretary to scrap parts of the arrangement.
The former chief Brexit negotiator also insisted there was no need for a trade war and that it would not be the UK’s choice.
The EU has threatened to retaliate with “all measures at its disposal” if the UK proceeds with new legislation overwriting sections of the protocol.
Critics have warned it would be an “unacceptable breach” of international law and fuel distrust of Britain.
The treaty agreed by the UK and EU as a way to maintain a free-flowing Irish land border has created economic barriers on the movement of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland, causing resentment and anger among many unionists and loyalists.
Great events that are under way make it all the more important for us to fix the issues that are dividing western countries
The row has created an impasse in efforts to form a devolved government administration in Belfast.
The UK is planning unilateral action to introduce separate “green” and “red” lanes for goods travelling between Britain and Northern Ireland, drawing a line between those destined to stay within the UK and those heading to the Republic of Ireland and beyond.
Speaking in the Lords for the first time since resigning from the frontbench last year, Mr Frost said: “We are told that fixing very obvious problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol will cause, it is said, ‘huge and irreparable damage to our foreign relations and international reputation’. I don’t agree with that.
“Any observer can see that protocol is undermining the Belfast Agreement, it’s weakening the government’s ability to govern Northern Ireland. Any observer can see it needs fixing.
“There is no need for a trade war. If it comes, it won’t be our choice, I guess. Some argue that the war in Ukraine makes it the wrong moment to address this question. On the contrary, I think the great events that are under way make it all the more important for us to fix the issues that are dividing western countries.
“To me it makes it all the more surprising and disappointing that the EU will not help us solve this problem and continues to be so unconstructive.”
Open to negotiation
He added: “Of course it is right that we should remain open to negotiation; a negotiated settlement would still be better.
“But in my experience only clarity about objectives and robustness in presenting them gets results, and knowing the foreign secretary I am sure that is how she will intend to proceed.”
However, former national security adviser Peter Ricketts warned: “Seen in the perspective of a major war in Europe, both the substance and timing of that are massively ill-judged, in my view.
“If pursued it will confirm the view in European capitals that Britain is not to be trusted.”
He added: “Let’s back down from the brink of a major breach with the EU and let’s work together with EU countries for peace and stability in Europe.”
David Hannay, who served as UK ambassador to both the EU and UN, said: “This is not the time to drift into a confrontation over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol or to be threatening to take unilateral action to set aside explicit provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement. That is the height of irresponsibility.”
Former terror law watchdog and leading lawyer Alex Carlile said: “The breaking of that treaty by the United Kingdom is an unacceptable breach not just of the law but the law of nations and what is higher in law than the law of nations?”
Independent crossbencher and former ambassador John Kerr, who was author of the Article 50 mechanism by which the UK left the EU, warned the Lords could reject legislation that sought to unilaterally make changes to the protocol.
He said: “I would like people to believe that, if they conclude a deal with us, then that deal is likely to stick. That makes it easier to conclude a deal.
“I would like people to think it unthinkable that we would break a treaty commitment and start a trade war.
“I think this House still champions the rule of law.”