Lord Frost has warned the EU to not overreact with “massive and disproportionate retaliation” if the UK triggers Article 16.
The minister for EU relations was speaking in the House of Lords as talks on negotiations over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol moved into their fourth week with little sign of progress.
With the EU’s lead negotiator Maros Sefcovic warning of “serious consequences” if the UK suspended parts of the Protocol, Frost said it was the UK’s “only option” if negotiations fail, the FT reports.
He said: “I gently suggest that our European friends should stay calm and keep things in proportion. They might remind themselves that no government and no country has a greater interest in stability and security in Northern Ireland, in the Belfast Agreement, than we do.”
Sefcovic met EU ambassadors in Brussels yesterday to discuss possible retaliatory measures against the UK and will meet Frost in London on Friday.
Frost urged Brussels to engage with the proposals Britain made in a command paper in July, reports Politico.
The EU responded with its own proposals last month, but the two sides have been locked in unproductive talks since then.
The Protocol was drawn up to protect the EU’s single market after Brexit while avoiding a hard border in Ireland.
It has proved unpopular with Northern Ireland’s unionist politicians and the UK government has argued it causes unnecessary bureaucracy for goods moving from Great Britain into the region.
Brussels continues to have the backing of Joe Biden in the dispute, reports the Express.
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, met with the US president in Washington yesterday.
Afterwards she said that they shared their assessment that the protocol was essential to safeguarding peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
As explained in the IOE&IT Daily Update, Article 16 is a safeguard open to both the UK and EU if they feel that the Protocol has caused “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties” or the “diversion of trade”.
Triggering it could have various ramifications for UK trade with the EU, depending on the bloc’s response.
These could range from an increase in customs checks at the border, to targeted tariffs on British goods, or even the withdrawal of the post-Brexit trade deal agreed between the UK and EU at the end of last year.
If the EU were to withdraw from the trade agreement, it would have to give the UK 12 months’ notice of this.