Prime Minister Boris Johnson has threatened to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol unless the EU eases trade restrictions between Great Britain and the region.
He is considering triggering Article 16, according to the Times, which allows either the UK or EU to suspend the Protocol’s rules in the event of ‘economic, societal or environmental difficulties’.
The same device was used by the EU last weekend when it halted the supply of vaccines over the Irish border – a decision Brussels quickly reversed after widespread criticism.
“We will do everything we need to do, whether legislatively or indeed by triggering Article 16 of the Protocol, to ensure that there is no barrier down the Irish Sea,” Johnson told the House of Commons yesterday (3 February).
The comments came before a meeting between Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovic, who are responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Protocol.
Gove has demanded six major changes to the rules in a strongly worded letter to Šefčovic, including an extension to the ongoing three-month grace period for checks on supermarket food supplies from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
He has argued for the easement to run until 1 January 2023 and called for a “permanent solution” to be found for chilled meats entering Northern Ireland from Britain.
According to RTE journalist Tony Connelly, Gove’s letter has not been well received in Brussels.
He tweeted that “EU sources have said the letter resembled an ultimatum to the EU, as tensions mount in Northern Ireland over the impact of the Protocol”.
No ‘dramatic change’
The Irish government has also pushed back on the idea of scrapping Protocol rules.
Irish minster Simon Coveney said there would not be “dramatic change” to the agreement, according to the Guardian.
“We want the Protocol to function in a way that works for everyone, north and south, on the island of Ireland,” he said
EU comes to terms with misstep
Article 16 was designed as a ‘last resort’ measure in case of unintended consequences resulting from the Protocol’s rules.
Former chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that the EU made a mistake triggering Article 16 during last week’s vaccine dispute, Politico reports.
“Many decisions have been taken in a hurry because this situation is serious, and mistakes can be made. This is what happened on Friday, it was a mistake that was corrected very quickly, the same evening, so there was no effect, except probably politically,” Barnier told the French National Assembly on Tuesday.
EU envoy to the UK João Vale de Almeida has called London and Brussels to “move on” from the matter, again in Politico.
“There was an oversight, the oversight was corrected in three hours. We never triggered Article 16 of the protocol that has to do with Northern Ireland. And so, I think we need to move on.”