U.K. Again Threatens to Suspend Deal, Accuses EU of Disrupting Peace in Northern Ireland

The U.K. has threatened again to trigger a contentious break clause in the Brexit agreement, accusing the European Union of disrupting peace in Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. which shares a land border with the EU.

David Frost, Britain's Brexit minister, delivered the threat Monday during a gathering of the U.K.'s governing Conservative Party, where he said that the agreement which he negotiated was undermining peace in Northern Ireland and causing "instability and disruption."

The tensions are rising from trade agreements for Northern Ireland, where customs and border checks must be conducted on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

Some Northern Ireland unionists have been angered by the checks, saying they imposed burdensome red tape on businesses and weaken Northern Ireland's connections with the rest of the U.K. Shortages and tensions in the region have led to unrest, including the Belfast Riots earlier this year.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Brexit Ireland
The U.K. has accused the European Union of disrupting peace in Northern Ireland, and threatened again on October 4, to suspend part of the Brexit agreement. A vehicle passes an anti-Brexit pro-Irish unity billboard seen from the Dublin road in Newry, Northern Ireland, on October 1, 2019. Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

Frost said unless there are major changes to the deal, Britain will invoke Article 16, a provision that lets either side suspend the agreement in exceptional circumstances.

However, Britain has made that threat before, and Frost didn't pull the trigger.

"But we cannot wait forever," he said.

The regulations are intended to prevent goods from Britain entering the EU's tariff-free single market while keeping an open border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland—a key pillar of Northern Ireland's peace process.

Britain accuses the EU of being needlessly "purist" in implementing the agreement, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, and said it requires major changes to work.

Blaming the bloc's "heavy-handed actions," Frost said "the Protocol itself" was undermining Northern Ireland's 1998 peace agreement.

"Businesses, political parties, the institutions, and indeed all in Northern Ireland face instability and disruption," he said. "So I urge the EU to be ambitious. It's no use tinkering around the edges. We need significant change."

Officials in the EU are likely to greet Frost's ultimatum—and his description of Britain's EU membership as a "long bad dream"—with disdain.

The EU blames Britain for the disruption, accusing it of trying to renege on a legally binding deal it signed up to.

Britain has also angered the EU by delaying the introduction of checks on some goods from the bloc agreed to in the divorce deal, citing the burden on businesses.

Frost said Britain was awaiting the bloc's response to its proposals for changes. European Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie said the bloc would propose solutions soon.

"What we're focusing on is finding practical solutions to issues that are arising, nothing more and nothing less," he said.

Britain's Conservatives are holding their first in-person conference since Britain left the bloc last year. Despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson's vow to "get Brexit done," the rupture is roiling the economy as Britain tries to bounce back from pandemic disruption and damage.

A severe shortage of truck drivers, due in part to a post-Brexit exodus of European workers, has snarled British supply chains, leaving gaps on supermarket shelves, fast-food chains without chicken and gas pumps dry. Scores of soldiers have been drafted in to drive fuel tankers after more than a week of gas shortages.

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The U.K. accused the European Union of disrupting peace in Northern Ireland, and threatened to suspend part of the Brexit agreement. Lord David Frost, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, speaks during the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, England, October 4. Peter Byrne/PA via AP