Liz Truss could trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in her first ten days as prime minister – if she wins the Conservative Party leadership race.
Officials working for Truss are reported to have drawn up plans to invoke the safeguarding measure ahead of the expiry of existing arrangements to ease checks on trade between NI and Great Britain.
Article 16 process
The protocol was agreed as part of the UK–EU Withdrawal Agreement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
As previously covered in the IOE&IT’s Daily Update, under the protocol deal agreed by the UK and EU as part of 2019’s Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland remains subject to the rules of the EU Single Market to prevent the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Article 16 of the protocol can be triggered by either the UK or the EU if they believe the protocol is causing “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties” or the “diversion of trade.”
If the provision is triggered, the two sides enter into “immediate consultation” in the joint committee that governs the deal, but either side can take “proportionate rebalancing measures” if an agreement cannot be reached.
No measures can be introduced within one month of notification, unless there are “exceptional circumstances”. If measures are adopted, then they would be reviewed every three months by a joint committee.
The current grace periods on protocol requirements, introduced to spare businesses from the most onerous checks under the protocol, are due to run out on 15 September, reports the Times.
As foreign secretary and chief Brexit negotiator, Truss introduced the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in parliament in June, to allow British ministers to override parts of the current agreement with the EU, blamed for constraining trade between NI and GB.
The bill contains a plan for ‘green lanes’ - meaning less checks on goods destined only for NI and not for the EU – and a dual regulatory regime where NI importers could choose to sell goods made to either EU or UK standards.
However, the legislation is not expected to pass through the House of Commons until the end of this year at the earliest, reports the FT.
Officials close to Truss are said to have been working with legal and trade experts over the plans in recent weeks and feel that triggering Article 16 would provide a stop-gap while the legislation is progressing.
Businesses moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland have faced requirements to complete declarations and other customs formalities, although the government has agreed easements and grace periods with the EU to allow time to adapt.
Finding a longer term solution to these problems has produced a stand-off in negotiations with the EU.
The Express reports that the UK has until 15 September to respond to EU legal action that was relaunched in June, when the government tabled the NIP Bill.
As covered in the Daily Update, the bill has passed the committee stage in Parliament and currently sits in the House of Lords.