Brexit: EU warns of “serious consequences” if UK invokes Article 16 | Brexit

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Britain and the EU appear to be on the brink of a trade war after Brussels accused Boris Johnson of insincerity in negotiations over Northern Ireland’s future and warned of “serious consequences “if Downing Street suspended the post-Brexit deal.

Coming out of his last tense meeting with Britain’s Brexit Minister, EU Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič said that despite attempts by Brussels to find a compromise, “we have not seen any movement on the British side”.

The two sides have been in talks for three weeks over changes to how the Brexit deal works to ensure the free flow of trade between Britain and Northern Ireland. The EU has proposed reducing customs checks and health checks on animal and plant products destined for supermarkets by 80%, but efčovič suggested that David Frost, the Brexit minister, had made little effort to engage with the proposals.

“I found this disappointing and once again urge the UK government to engage sincerely with us,” said efčovič. “From that point of view, I consider next week to be an important week. We must concentrate all our efforts on finding a solution as soon as possible.

“Our aim should be to establish stability and predictability for Northern Ireland. We hear a lot about article 16 right now, but there is no doubt that triggering article 16 to call for the negotiation of the protocol would have serious consequences.

“Serious for Northern Ireland, as it would lead to instability and unpredictability, and also serious for EU-UK relations in general, as it would mean a rejection of the EU’s efforts to find a solution. consensus solution to the implementation of the protocol. “

Under the protocol, Northern Ireland remains in effect in the single market for goods while EU customs regulations are applied to goods entering from Britain. Brussels has acknowledged that the implementation of these arrangements has created political unrest in Northern Ireland.

Lord Frost, however, reiterated on Friday that the proposed remedies did not go far enough. The British government wishes to maintain the free movement of trade between Northern Ireland and the single market at large, including the Republic, but without the European Court of Justice playing a role of arbiter in respect of the law of the ‘EU.

“Lord Frost presented the UK’s assessment of the protocol negotiations,” a UK government spokesperson said of the meeting with Šefčovič. “He stressed that progress had been limited and that the EU’s proposals currently did not effectively address the fundamental difficulties in the functioning of the protocol.

Article 16 of the protocol authorizes either party to take unilateral “safeguard measures” which would suspend parts of Johnson’s agreement with Brussels if it resulted in “serious economic, societal or social hardship.” environmental ”.

Such a move would be seen as inflammatory in EU capitals, which were enraged by Downing Street’s refusal to implement a deal reached in October 2019. Ahead of his meeting in Brussels, Frost nonetheless warned that the outbreak of article 16 was “very much on the table”, adding that time was running out.

“We hope to make some progress, but honestly the gap between us is still quite big, but let’s see where we can come from,” he said. “We are not going to trigger article 16 today, but article 16 has been on the table since July.

“Time is running out for these talks if we are to move forward. “

Frost had set the EU a three-week deadline after the October 12 publication in Brussels of a plan to drastically reduce the level of controls on trade from Britain to Northern Ireland.

Any decision on Article 16 is widely expected to be taken after the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, which are due to end on November 12.

Frost said, “I am not going to give any timelines or assumptions. There is a big gap between us. If that gap narrows and the commission listens to what we said in the command document and looks at the situation in Northern Ireland, maybe that will help us get things done. “

There has been speculation that the UK could use Article 16 to implement its vision for Northern Ireland, as stated in a July order document. However, the treaty only allows actions “strictly necessary” “to remedy the situation”. There is an ongoing debate within the government about what this allows legally.

If the UK triggers Article 16, a range of options will be open to the EU, including notification of the termination of the trade and cooperation agreement that guarantees duty-free trade.

European sources said Brussels was unlikely to make such a move given the range of other options in the treaty to respond to the UK, including targeted tariffs on UK exports.


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