UK-EU tensions grow as Brussels threatens to withdraw trade deal if UK triggers Article 16

Mon 8 Nov 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

Irish border

Following inconclusive talks between the UK’s EU relations minister Lord Frost and his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, speculation continues to grow that the UK could trigger Article 16 to suspend elements of the post-Brexit agreement.

Sefcovic said he had seen no move at all from the UK side in negotiations on changes to the Protocol and urged the British government to engage with the EU “sincerely”, reports RTE.

Frost released a statement which said that “progress had been limited” and that the EU’s proposals did not “deal effectively with the fundamental difficulties in the way the Protocol was operating”.

He said he hoped that further discussions would lead to a consensual solution.

Decision soon

According to the Telegraph, a decision from the UK on whether to use Article 16 will be taken at the end of November. 

The paper claims that the UK also plans to lay secondary legislation before Parliament to slash customs checks in the region before Christmas, meaning fewer declarations would need to be completed for goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

There would also be less need for food products to get special safety certificates for sale in the region.

EU considers options

The EU warned of “serious consequences” for EU-UK relations and instability in Northern Ireland if the UK suspended parts of the Protocol, reports the FT.

Changes to the Protocol proposed by the EU would cut customs checks by half and health checks by 80%, it claims.

However, the UK wants it to go further and continues to demand that the European Court of Justice has no role in governing the deal.

Trade war

With Lord Frost saying that Article 16 remains on the table, EU member states have been looking at what counter measures are available.

Ideas mooted include slowing cross-channel trade with more intensive checks and, more dramatically, withdrawing the trade deal agreed with the UK at the end of last year.

This would lead to the introduction of tariffs and quotas on several goods traded between the UK and EU.

‘Bad faith’

Irish minister for foreign affairs, Simon Coveney said he hoped the dispute would not escalate into a trade war, but said Britain was operating in “bad faith”, reports the Irish Times.

He accused Britain of adopting a ‘negotiating tactic’ that has been to “offer nothing, [but] to continually ask for more”.

Protocol fatigue

Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said the business community in the region had Brexit and Protocol fatigue.

“We need stability, certainty, simplicity, and we need affordability,” he said. “Article 16 does not do that. It gives us more uncertainty, it gives us more instability and it gives us more negotiations.”

Major intervention

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major has said that triggering Article 16 would be “colossally stupid”, the BBC reports.

He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “It would add to destabilisation in Northern Ireland, it would seriously damage relationships across the whole of Ireland north and south and the UK, it would erode relationships between Europe and the UK, it would damage relationships between Washington and London.”

Frost and Sefcovic meet in London on Friday for further ‘make or break’ talks.