Politics

EU fears Boris Johnson could scrap NI protocol – why this could cause chaos in Brussels

Northern Ireland may become 'serious problem' warns Rogers

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The EU could be facing chaos with the mounting belief Prime Minister Boris Johnson could trigger Article 16 after attending the COP26 conference in Glasgow. Mr Johnson has already said he believes the conditions for triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol had been met, and Brexit Minister Lord Frost has also warned using the article could be the only way for the UK to bring about changes to the protocol.

The Northern Ireland protocol has been a major sticking point for both sides in recent weeks.

The UK and EU agreed to enter talks earlier this autumn as the protocol was agreed to not be working as well as planned.

The Bloc offered to massively scale down the number of checks on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland – but the UK wants more from the negotiations.

Talks resumed in Brussels today, following negotiations last week in London ending in a stalemate.

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The UK requesting the European Court of Justice to be removed from policing the protocol – which Brussels is refusing to consider.

This stance was made clear by a Downing Street spokesman who said: “Lord Frost has set out that there has been an element of progress made, but there are still some gaps, particularly on the governance of the protocol, which remains where the biggest difference still lies and our position on that remains.”

Exasperation is growing among EU figures, who claim the UK is increasing its demands and see a triggering of the article as a likely outcome.

One Brussels official warned: “It [the UK triggering Article 16] would be a big crisis, but we are ready for it. There are levers we can pull.”

Another said in Dublin: “We are in for a very bumpy few weeks.”

“The UK Government risks doing huge damage to UK-EU relations and Anglo-Irish relations.”

What is Article 16? What does it do?

Article 16 of the NI protocol sets out the process for taking unilateral “safeguard” measures if either the EU or UK concludes the operation of the deal is leading to serious problems.

Enacting the article would result in suspending parts of the deal – the article states the scope and duration of these should be limited to what is “strictly necessary”.

Any action taken by the UK Government will likely result in Brussels enacting retaliatory measures, such as tariffs on British imports.

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What does the UK want in the negotiations?

Lord Frost said last week: “As we have noted before, the EU’s proposals represent a welcome step forward, but do not free up goods movements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the extent necessary for a durable solution.

“Nor do they yet engage with the changes needed in other areas, such as subsidy policy, VAT, and governance of the protocol, including the role of the court of justice.

“Our position remains that substantial changes to the protocol will be needed if we are to find a sustainable solution that works in the best interests of Northern Ireland and supports.”

The ongoing dispute has further damaged already strained relations, but officials on both sides are now in the third week of negotiations over the issue.

Maros Sefcovic, vice-president of the European Commission, has however said the UK is reluctant to seek a solution, pointing out the protocol was originally agreed by both sides and was “the best answer we could come up with at the time”.

He said: “I am increasingly concerned that the UK Government will refuse to engage with this and embark on a path of confrontation.”

Mr Sefcovic added: “With the EU’s package of enhanced opportunities from this October, we have gone the extra mile.

“But we have our limits, too, as we must protect the integrity of the EU’s Single Market and the interest of the 27 member states.”

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