Brexit tensions surge as EU warns UK triggering Article 16 will rip 'heart' from relations

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The UK has been at loggerheads with Brussels over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland, claiming the mechanism currently in place simply does not work. Former Brexit minister Lord Frost had wanted to overhaul large parts of the protocol, warning if the EU did not move from its stance, then the UK would be ready to trigger the Article 16 safeguard. This allows either side to possibly suspend trade checks between Britain and Northern Ireland if they believe the protocol is leading to “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.

The EU has so far stood strong on its position, warning any move to trigger Article 16 with be met with fierce retaliation, sparking fears of a possible and potentially destructive trade war between the two parties.

Speaking to German news outlet Spiegel, European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic warned the threats from the UK Government to pull the trigger on Article 16 “are an enormously disruptive element in negotiations”.

He said: “You try to achieve something together, and — boom — there’s the threat of Article 16 again.

“That goes to the heart of our relationship.”

Mr Sefcovic also warned triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol would constitute an “enormous setback” for relations between the EU and UK.

The EU chief claimed the protocol is “the most complicated part of the Brexit negotiations and is the foundation of the whole deal”, before warning: “Without the protocol, the system collapses. We must prevent that at all costs.”

Last month, the European Commission drafted a range of sanctions that could be imposed as a form of retaliation against the UK should Article 16 be triggered.

These included punitive tariffs that could be slapped on UK exports to the EU within a month or a suspension of the whole post-Brexit trade deal within nine months.

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He argued current problems with the protocol, such as the supply of medicine, as well as customs and food checks, “should have been solved by now”, but is hopeful a resolution is in sight.

The EU chief highlighted a regular poll by Queen’s University in Belfast which found that, as of the end of October, a majority of voters in Northern Ireland viewed the Protocol as positive for the very first time.

Mr Sefcovic concluded: “Overall, we are on the right track.”



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