Brexit talks between UK minister Lord Frost and EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic are due to resume over the coming days as they attempt to find common ground on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Northern Ireland is still effectively part of the European Union‘s single market for goods, with trade checks being made on several goods crossing from Great Britain. Lord Frost wants to overhaul parts of the Protocol in order to eliminate customs controls ordered by the EU, but Brussels insists the mechanism won’t be renegotiated.
During the summer, Prime Minister Mr Johnson was reportedly close to enforcing Article 16 against the EU and overhauling parts of the Protocol, but was talked out of it at the 11th hour by Lord Frost.
Article 16 is often dubbed the “nuclear option” as it would be the last resort from the UK and would see the hated deal torn up.
Lord Frost has said the UK believes the conditions for triggering Article 16 have been met but insists he would prefer to renegotiate the Protocol.
But with the EU refusing to change its stance Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the Bow Group think tank, warned it might be the only option left for Britain to force the EU back to the negotiating table.
He told Express.co.uk: “The Bow Group raised concerns that the Northern Ireland Protocol was not fit for purpose as soon as it was published, the Government denied this, but the reality is now for all to see.
“The first thing the Government needs to do is admit and accept the Northern Irish Protocol is not fit for purpose.
“It needs to be renegotiated and therefore all parties need to return to the table.
“At this time there seems to be a softening on the EU’s side.”
But Mr Harris-Quinney warned: “If the EU refuse to renegotiate the deal, then the UK must trigger Article 16.
“This would signal that the Protocol is not working for the British people, and it would remove any trade friction between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and to call the EU back to the negotiating table.”
Anand Menon, director of The UK in a Changing Europe think tank, believes the UK enforcing Article 16 at this stage is “perfectly plausible”.
But he warned it could spark a furious retaliation from the EU that could further enflame already fraught tensions.
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When asked if the UK could trigger Article 16, Mr Menon replied: “It could happen and it’s perfectly possible.
“Article 16 is phrased in such a way it says something like it can be triggered in the event of a disruption to trade.
“In fact, the point of the Protocol is to disrupt trade because it means Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are living under different regulatory systems so there needs to be checks between the two to make sure those regulations are applied.”
“But the EU would retaliate through the courts.”
During a visit to Northern Ireland on Friday, European Commission vice president Mr Sefcovic admitted there were difficulties with how the Protocol is currently operating, but insisted this was not a reason to ditch the entire mechanism.
He said: “We recognise, and that’s my purpose of the visit here, that some things have been proven more difficult than others.
“But I think that because of that we just shouldn’t, you know, scrap the whole thing, because I know how difficult it was to get here.
“Therefore I’m ready to go the extra mile to save the progress, to build on the achievements, which took us five years to build.”