Britain's foreign secretary Liz Truss will become lead negotiator in talks on the Northern Ireland protocol following David Frost's resignation as Brexit minister. Downing Street said on Sunday night that Ms Truss, who has been foreign secretary for three months, would take over ministerial responsibility for Britain's relationship with the European Union with immediate effect.
Lord Frost resigned on Saturday night, citing concerns about Boris Johnson's government's "current direction of travel" including coronavirus restrictions. European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said the change at the top of Britain's negotiating team would not affect the talks.
“My team and I will continue to co-operate with the UK in the same constructive spirit on all important tasks ahead, including the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland,” he said.
Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic paused the negotiations last Friday until next month after the EU changed its rules to ensure that all medicines prescribed by the National Health Service (NHS) would continue to be available in Northern Ireland. Lord Frost also made an important concession, dropping his demand for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to be removed from the protocol before any deal was agreed on issues surrounding the protocol's implementation.
Conservative Eurosceptics reacted with alarm to Lord Frost’s resignation, which came at the end of a week when half of Mr Johnson’s backbenchers rebelled against coronavirus restrictions and the party lost a seat in North Shropshire it had held for almost 200 years. Politicians and business leaders in Northern Ireland called for stability and certainty over the protocol in the wake of Lord Frost’s departure.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that Lord Frost had “negotiated Brexit and he has worked to undermine it” every day since. “I am less concerned about what is going on in the Tory party and the dismay and the disruption,” she told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme.
“What I am more concerned about is that the protocol is made to work, that pragmatic solutions are found, that certainty and stability is achieved for all of our business community here who have been left high and dry in terms of uncertainty. . . because of the Brexit mess.”
The director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, Aodhán Connolly, said he had got on very well with Lord Frost but said that Northern Ireland needed stability and certainty.
“We need a calm and smooth transition so that in 2022 we can build on progress made,” he said.
Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI said that with "critical talks to sort out real problems with customs and the movement of food, plants and animals" due to resume in the new year, the timing was "poor".
“The negotiators in the rooms need political direction to actually negotiate rather than them and all of us helping bring a new minister up to speed. We don’t have that time to waste,” he said.