Lord Frost discusses the deadline for invoking Article 16
The momentum towards the UK triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol is building. Once COP26 is out of the way, there are strong expectations that London will make its move.
Despite the ongoing technical talks between the European Commission and UK, officials in London and Brussels on the EC’s package of measures to ease the implementation of the Protocol, Lord David Frost continues the rhetorical assault its provenance.
This week Downing Street was expanding its legal advice on triggering Article 16.
One senior EU diplomat said: “A lot of the expectation is due to the statements of Frost and the very dismissive approach he takes to the efforts of the EU to try and find practical solutions to the implementation of the Protocol.”
The official added: “The UK keeps waving the threat of Article 16, and the more they talk about it the more people are now beginning to believe them. So there’s an air of inevitability about it.”
The EU feels that the threat of launching Article 16 is being used as political and diplomatic leverage by the UK.
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The EU fear that the UK could trigger Article 16 over Northern Ireland
Unionists in the North have felt abandoned by Great Britain
The Protocol has also become entangled in the fisheries row with France.
Lord Frost met French Europe Minister Clement Beaune in Paris on Thursday to resolve a bitter row over licences for French vessels to fish in UK waters.
The French have claimed that the UK has not played ball in issuing a fair amount of licences to fish in British waters.
Threats have been made by Paris to cut electricity supplies to the UK and Jersey.
French authorities also seized a British fishing vessel during the height of the tension.
Fishermen in France have also threatened to take matters into their own hands by blockading routes to the UK from French ports.
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Yet, as with the initial Brexit negotiations that saw the UK leave the EU, the main sticking point has once again seen Northern Ireland firmly in focus.
Lord Frost raised the Northern Ireland Protocol, repeating the complaint that the UK’s concerns were not being met in the technical talks with the Commission and that London would have to consider its options.
Responding to Lord Frost, French Minister Clement Beaune said this was a matter for the UK and Brussels, but that France supported the Commission’s position, according to a source briefed on the Paris meeting.
The European Commission agreed to the talks only on the basis of the package of measures on medicines, customs, agrifood checks and an oversight role for Northern Ireland institutions and stakeholders published on October 13 by Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s chief negotiator.
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French Europe Minister Clement Beaune is piling pressure on the EU to stand tough
While there has been some progress on reducing customs formalities, the Commission is putting significant effort into ensuring that whatever agreements emerge remain bespoke solutions for Northern Ireland and that the UK won’t see similar easements for GB trade into the EU in general.
The UK continues to demand that the European Court of Justice, in arbitrating any disputes, be removed from the Protocol.
RTE’s Tony Connelly cites an EU source claiming that British officials have repeatedly attempted to get the ECJ onto the agenda, and to push it up to the higher political level, so that it is discussed by Mr Frost and Mr Sefcovic.
“The ECJ is fundamental and not negotiable,” says an EU diplomat. “So all this talk of fudges and intermediary bodies and arbitration before things get to the ECJ – this was never discussed by the Commission and the member states.”
The European Union is worried about Article 16
In the background, Lord Frost continues to lambast what he clearly regards as the Original Sin: the notion that the way to solve the Irish border issue was for Northern Ireland to remain aligned to the EU single market and customs rulebook.
This is not just one person’s opinion.
The UK Government’s official position, as delineated in the Command Paper of July 21, expressly attacks the basis for the Protocol.
“The UK Government does not accept – and has never accepted – that the Northern Ireland Protocol was the only means of protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, including this North-South dimension,” a command paper stated.
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