Blog: Strap in for a possible trade war as Boris Johnson’s latest game of chicken puts everyone in a flap –

Boris Johnson has a habit of “playing chicken” with the European Union over Brexit. It boosts him in the home base and that may be enough of itself to justify it.

ut the UK prime minister and his backers occasionally also insist that taking things to the brink has produced results. We heard this in October 2019 when they threatened a “no-deal Brexit” and got some late changes to the divorce deal, including having the “backstop” swopped for the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Johnson & Co repeated this last year by refusing to implement parts of the UK Withdrawal Agreement they had signed up to just months earlier. Again, they will tell you that move delivered last-minute concessions for the post-Brexit trade deal agreed last Christmas Eve, dubbed the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

The EU chief negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, is due in London again on Friday to review things with the UK Brexit minister, David Frost. If there is a positive signal from that meeting, beyond talks just limping on, it will be a major surprise.

Downing Street continues to signal that it will trigger a safeguard clause, called Article 16, that would suspend key parts of Northern Ireland’s special trade status. That would be another bout of “chicken” – but all signs are this time the result will be different, with the EU hitting back and things moving towards a trade war which would heavily impact Ireland.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that the Cabinet’s Brexit sub-committee met on Monday to go back over preparations already made in 2019 to manage through a trade war with the UK.

Ireland and the EU expects the UK to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the coming weeks. This unilateral action would effectively suspend the operation of the protocol and have far-reaching consequences.

The UK is certainly entitled to negotiate as robustly as possible. But there is a ring of truth to Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney’s view that London is going beyond this, demanding things they know they cannot get, and simply pocketing gains and not reciprocating or engaging properly.

Article 16 of the protocol is there for both sides, as a safety break, when “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties” arise or trade is disrupted. It must be restricted purely to what is needed to remedy the situation.

The UK argument is that these special difficulties already exist in the North. Two buses were set alight by masked men in the past week, a Northern Irish first minister was forced to resign in the summer, followed by another and trade is impacted. London argues the threshold has been crossed to justify applying the emergency break.

The circular problem is that the UK’s management of the issue is stoking those who would resort to violence in the North and perversely appears to justify such action.

All signs are now that the EU has made a generous offer on managing the protocol’s application which will not be improved upon.

The EU is prepared to re-write EU law to ensure medicine supplies to the North and suspend 80pc of product checks and 50pc of customs controls.

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