How the EU would respond if London follows its threat and triggers Article 16
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Boris Johnson has issued a thinly veiled threat to the European Union calling for expediency with negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol. The UK Prime Minister insisted the UK is not “trying to stoke” problems but Lord Frost has argued the trade issues have surpassed the threshold for triggering Article 16 which would essentially tear up parts of the negotiated deal. Mr Johnson urged the EU to use “common sense” but if the UK has to hit the nuclear button, the EU’s response would be critical to the future of both sides.
British Brexit Minister David Frost last week threatened to unilaterally suspend parts of the Northern Ireland protocol unless there was a “real negotiation” between the UK and EU. This threat included the use of Article 16.
The UK is pushing for changes to the protocol which was agreed to prevent a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit.
In addition, the Government wants to see the removal of the European Court of Justice over Northern Ireland goods trade and an “honesty box” system for goods travelling across the Irish Border.
As it stands officials claim the protocol has caused issues for trade across the Irish Sea – garnering criticism from impacted entities.
London said trade disruption resulting from the protocol has already breached the threshold to trigger Article 16.
But so far the nation has refrained from officially triggering the nuclear option while negotiations with Brussels are ongoing.
Lord Frost said there was “ample justification” for the UK triggering Article 16, however.
Speaking to the House of Lords on Monday, September 13, he said: “They would be making a significant mistake if they thought that we were not ready to use the Article 16 safeguards if that were to be the only apparent way forward to deal with the situation in front of us.
“If we are to avoid Article 16, there must be a real negotiation between us and the EU.”
In response, Germany’s ambassador to the UK Andreas Michaelis said: “Seems we are entering a new phase with regard to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“Just as the EU becomes more pragmatic and understanding the UK adopts a less flexible line. Call that joint implementation.”
The EU has ruled out reopening negotiations for this deal but has said it is open to finding solutions which will ease its implementation.
European Affairs Ministers from the 27 EU member states will gather in Brussels on Tuesday to hear an update from European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic.
Grace periods covering post-Brexit trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be extended from October 1 to “to provide space for potential further discussion” the UK Government revealed earlier this month.
These grace periods have been twice extended so far – first in March, in a unilateral decision by the UK, and then in June, when the bloc and UK averted a ban on importing chilled meat goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
On October 1, the Government was expected to introduce new customs enforcement measures on parcels moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
These measures would include new charges on some agricultural products and increased health checks on pets arriving in Northern Ireland.
However, all these changes will not be delayed as the two sides continue to negotiate on the Northern Ireland protocol.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned post-Brexit issues with Northern Ireland “can’t go on forever”.
He claimed the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had even offered to mediate on the issue.
However, Dutch diplomatic sources told the Guardian Mr Rutte made no such offer, instead they claim he urged the PM to be “constructive, pragmatic and engage with the Commission” during a telephone call.
When asked if the Government intends to make the nuclear move of triggering Article 16 in the wake of his meeting with the US President Joe Biden, the UK PM said: “I hope everybody knows this isn’t something that the UK Government is trying to stoke up for our own political purposes.
“On the contrary, we want to fix this, we want common sense.
“We want no barriers in the UK for trading in our country and it’s crazy at the moment that we’ve got the protocol being enforced or being used in the way that it is.”
Ahead of the meeting of EU member states in Brussels, France’s Minister for European Affairs Clément Beaune urged Britain to uphold its side of the post-Brexit deal.
He also said it was in Britain’s best interest to work to restore trust in relations he acknowledged had become strained.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Beaune said: “We see it with Brexit, we see it with the Aukus project, that we need trust we need to rebuild confidence.
“The deal must be respected, it’s a question of trust, it’s a question of keeping one’s word.”
Triggering Article 16 is considered to be the last resort option and would lead to serious economic, societal and environmental difficulties.
The move is essentially an option when the parties have been unable to agree a joint approach to solving problems.
The EU came used it amid the highly contentious row over supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine earlier this year – but the bloc quickly changed course in the wake of widespread outrage at the move.
Currently, the UK is pressing for “substantial and significant change” but the bloc has refused to renegotiate – meaning the two sides have reached a stalemate.
If the dialogue between the UK and EU breaks down – Article 16 may be the only option.
In that case, the issue would be forwarded to the Joint Consultative Working Group, established in Article 15, which would then feed the work of the Specialised Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (Article 14), which in turn makes recommendations to the Joint Committee.
The Joint Committee is where final decisions are made.
The UK and the EU will immediately enter talks through the Joint Committee to find “a commonly acceptable solution.”
No safeguard measures may be enacted until one month after this or earlier if the consultation process concludes before that time.
Only “exceptional circumstances” permit action to commence straight away.
If either side adopts safeguard measures, the Joint Committee will be informed of what these are and they will be reviewed every three months to seek a resolution.
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