Britain will press on with negotiations to try to resolve what it calls problems with part of the Brexit divorce agreement that governs trade with Northern Ireland, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday.
“Our focus at the moment is to carry on with the discussions we’re having,” the spokesman told reporters, repeating Brexit minister David Frost’s words that London would not trigger the Article 16 emergency provision on Friday.
“We obviously want to agree consensual solutions on the protocol and we need to resolve these issues urgently because the disruption on the ground in Northern Ireland hasn’t gone away.”
Article 16 is a measure allowing for unilateral action by either the EU or the UK if they deem their agreement governing post-Brexit trade is having a strongly negative impact.
Britain left the EU last year, but it has since refused to implement border checks between its province of Northern Ireland and the bloc’s member Ireland like the ones the 27-nation union says London is obliged to under their divorce deal.
The EU says tighter controls are necessary to protect its single market of 450 million people, while London says that would damage the United Kingdom’s unity by tearing Northern Ireland too far apart from the rest of the country.
“We are not going to trigger Article 16 today but Article 16 is very much on the table,” Britain’s negotiator David Frost told journalists.
Article 16 allows each side to protect itself if it deems the standing agreement, in this case: on the Irish border – the only land frontier between the EU and the UK since Brexit – is having a strongly negative impact on its interests.
As expectation grows that London might resort to that option, Frost said the best way of avoiding it was “if we can reach an agreement, an essential agreement… that provides a sustainable solution”.
He said there was a “significant” gap between the EU and the UK on the matter and that time was running out for his negotiations with Maros Sefcovic, a deputy head of the bloc’s executive European Commission.
A spokesman for the Commission told a regular news briefing on Friday that the bloc was “fully concentrated on finding solutions that provide predictability for people” in Ireland and Northern Ireland that share a history of sectarian violence.
Asked whether it was planning what to do should London trigger Article 16, the Commission – which negotiates with Britain on behalf of EU countries – said earlier this week it always prepares for eventualities.
Photo – Britain’s Minister of State at the Cabinet Office Lord David Frost (C) delivers a press statement ahead of a meeting on post brexit negotiation with EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic in Brussels, Belgium, 05 November 2021. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET