Frost leaves Coveney rattled – Irish minister admits UK on brink of triggering Article 16

EU’s reaction to triggering of Article 16 discussed by Parker

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Lord Frost has warned triggering Article 16 “is very much on the table and has been since July” as tensions over the hated Protocol remain. Simon Coveney claimed enacting this clause of the Brexit deal would bring relations between the UK and the EU to a new low.

He confirmed Irish officials are preparing contingency plans, adding “the signals are not good”.

Article 16 allows for parts of the Protocol to be suspended if they are causing serious difficulties.

Numerous reports have suggested it could be triggered as soon as COP26 is over.

The climate conference will end on November 12.

Mr Coveney told RTE’s This Week triggering of Article 16 would heighten trade disputes between officials in Westminster and Brussels.

He said: “This would be a significant act that would damage relationships between Britain and Ireland and put extraordinary pressure on parties in Northern Ireland.

“Whether that is part of an ongoing negotiating strategy to try to change, amend or end the Protocol is hard to know, but certainly the signals are not good.”

EU commissioner, and one of Europe’s top Brexit negotiators, Maros Sefcovic told reporters on Friday that triggering Article 16 would have “serious consequences”.

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He said: “Serious for Northern Ireland, as it would lead to instability and unpredictability, and serious also for the EU-UK relations in general, as it would mean a rejection of EU efforts to find a consensual solution to the implementation of the protocol.”

But David Frost, the UK negotiator, insisted that there remains “a significant gap between us”.

The pair are due to talk in the UK on the day COP26 ends.

Some EU officials have played down threats of the lengths to which the bloc would go to punish Britain, telling the Guardian that officials would be unlikely to give notice of terminating the trade agreement that ensures tariff-free trade in retaliation.

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Ireland’s European commissioner, Mairead McGuinness, has also offered assurances that the EU would not demand Ireland impose customs checks on the Ireland of Ireland.

She told the Guardian: “There will be no border on the island. There’s a huge sensitivity around this.”

But Mr Coveney maintains that the EU’s response to the triggering of Article 16 would be “very serious”.

He insisted “the EU is showing good faith in terms of compromise and flexibilities”, putting the onus on UK officials to back down.

This is unlikely, with Lord Frost arguing that trade should be able to flow freely between Northern Ireland and Ireland – along with the rest of the single Markey – without the involvement of the European Court of Justice.

Brussels wants the court to keep its role of checking whether trade is taking place in accordance with EU law.

Reports over the weekend suggested that Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin is “scared” by the threat of Article 16 being triggered in the coming weeks.

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