How Northern Ireland Protocol decision could play into Putin’s hands: ‘He’ll be delighted’

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Lord David Frost will today explain the Northern Ireland Protocol and how the UK arrived at that part of its Brexit deal with the EU. The UK’s former chief negotiator with the 27-nation bloc, who resigned as Brexit Minister in December, will deliver a keynote speech at 12:30pm. Lord Frost is hosted by Policy Exchange as he opens up for the first time about the politics and pressures of the negotiations with the EU in the run-up to Britain leaving the bloc.

His intervention comes as Boris Johnson is planning new legislation to allow ministers to rip up parts of the Protocol.

The Prime Minister’s proposed bill would give the Government unilateral powers to suspend border checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain under UK law.

However, Mr Johnson has been warned that legislation to scrap elements of the Brexit deal would enrage Brussels and Washington and undermine their relationship with Britain.

European diplomatic insiders told The Times on Saturday that this would play into the hands of Vladimir Putin, who could seize on any cracks in the western alliance amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

One said: “With war in Ukraine entering a new phase, now is not the time to undermine western unity just to play to Tory backbenchers in Westminster or the DUP gallery in Belfast.”

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They added: “Putin will be delighted that the West is split and the UK is ready to unilaterally ditch an international treaty agreed less than three years ago.

“Any leadership capital Johnson has built up over Ukraine will disappear instantly.”

The warning comes as Putin has switched Russia’s offensives to focus on Donbas in eastern Ukraine.

Russian troops have stepped up operations in the border region, swathes of which were controlled by Russia-backed rebels before the invasion.

The Russian President has withdrawn troops from some areas such as the capital Kyiv, one of the areas Russia had initially focused on in the war.

Amid the continued conflict in Ukraine, other diplomatic sources claimed that proposing new Brexit legislation is “utterly irresponsible”.

One told the FT that Putin would revel at any signs of souring ties between the UK and EU.

They said: “Given what is at stake in Ukraine and for the West as a whole, this definitely is not the time for gambling away Britain’s reputation as a stalwart of the rules-based international order.”

The Protocol is part of the UK and EU’s post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland, designed to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

However, the deal has proved incredibly controversial since it came into force in January 2021, due to the mountain of red tape and additional paperwork it imposed on some businesses in Northern Ireland.

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Mr Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss are said to have effectively signed off the plans for legislation to suspend parts of the arrangements, according to the Financial Times, which first reported on the proposals.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “No decisions have yet been taken and our overriding priority continues to be the protection of peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

“As we have said consistently, the Government will take measures to safeguard the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement if solutions cannot be found to fix the Protocol.”

Sources in Westminster claimed the Prime Minister was looking ahead to the May 5 Northern Ireland Assembly elections, which could see Unionist parties turn their back on the country’s power-sharing executive over their opposition to the Protocol.

If the legislation was passed, it would give UK ministers the ability to make Articles 5 to 10 of the Protocol ineffective.

These articles form the bulk of the Protocol, and under the deal, must be voted on by Northern Ireland assembly members.

The legislation would effectively allow ministers to ignore any vote under UK law.

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