Truss to call for extension to NI grace periods rather than trigger Article 16, insiders say

Wed 14 Sept 2022
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

brexit talks

Liz Truss is expected to request that the EU extend ‘grace periods’ on some of the checks that were supposed to have been introduced as part of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The call will come as part of the UK’s formal response to legal action launched by Brussels earlier this year following the UK’s introduction of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – draft legislation that would allow it to suspend parts or all of the protocol.

The grace periods have effectively postponed a wide range of customs and sanitary checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain that were due to have already been introduced.

Short term fix

An EU official close to the negotiations has told Politico that Brussels is familiar with the discussions and is likely to grant the extension, but that a longer-term fix to the issues around the implementation of the protocol was required.

“What we’ve told them informally is that the better thing [that] can happen is for us not to respond to such a letter,” they said. “The Commission can’t simply reply saying ‘oh, very well, carry on.’”

Article 16 alternative

The extension to the grace periods will be presented as an alternative to the UK’s threat to trigger Article 16 of the protocol, which would allow it to suspend part or all of the agreement.

The UK’s letter could be delayed, however, due to the ongoing period of mourning in the UK following the death of HM Queen last week.

Article 16 on hold

Insiders have also told the FT that Truss’ new administration is not likely to trigger Article 16 in the immediate future.

Officials have indicated they want to create space in order to try to reset the talks that have been stalled since February.

A gap still needs to be bridged between the two sides with Truss wanting to end the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction in Northern Ireland and to stop all checks on British goods entering the region if they are not destined to stay there.

Legal action

The EU is likely to take a decision in the next three weeks on whether to ramp up its legal action by taking Britain to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU).

It is likely to do so unless the UK withdraws the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill or “there is a political intervention” by Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

State of the Union

Von der Leyen did not mention the UK during her state of the union address today (14 September), which focused almost entirely on how the bloc would support Ukraine and address the energy crisis, reports Politico.

Truss is yet to speak with von der Leyen, who is thought to be more “conciliatory” than Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič, who has privately argued against extending the grace periods.

EU offer

This week Šefčovič urged Truss to resume political talks on the protocol, saying EU proposals were not that far away from the UK’s and would ultimately reduce checks to just “a couple of lorries a day".

According to the Irish Times, Irish and UK officials have confirmed Taoiseach Micheál Martin is expected to discuss the protocol with Truss on the margins of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II next week. The leaders met at a memorial service in Belfast on Tuesday and spoke on the telephone last Friday.

The King’s view

King Charles III used his first visit to Northern Ireland as monarch to “seek the welfare of all the inhabitants of Northern Ireland”.

He met with the region’s political leaders, including Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the Democratic Unionist Party.

The Guardian reports that he asked both leaders about the Northern Ireland Assembly and its current impasse, and questioned Donaldson on the EU and issues surrounding the protocol.