The UK is demanding full-blown reform of the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP), amid growing speculation that it will trigger Article 16 of the document, which will allow London to temporarily scrap its NIP-related obligations.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has tweeted she is eager to sit down with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic to discuss pressing issues related to the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP).
“I want a comprehensive solution that delivers for the people of Northern Ireland and everyone across our great country”, Truss, the UK’s newly appointed chief post-Brexit negotiator, underlined.
The statement comes after Britain’s former chief negotiator on post-Brexit relations with the EU, Lord David Frost, resigned from the UK government on Saturday over his “disillusionment” with the direction of London’s domestic and foreign policy.
Last week, Frost expressed frustration about the lack of progress in the UK’s negotiations with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol, reiterating London’s readiness to trigger the article allowing one of the parties to temporarily abandon its commitments.
“It is disappointing that it has not been possible to reach either a comprehensive or worthwhile interim agreement this year. A solution needs to be found urgently early next year. For as long as there is no agreed solution, we remain ready to use the Article 16 safeguard mechanism if that is the only way to protect the prosperity and stability of Northern Ireland and its people”, the then-Brexit minister stressed.
The remarks followed Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheal Martin warning last month of serious repercussions from the possible triggering of Article 16 by London, stressing that “a good faith response is required from the United Kingdom government”.
“In my view it would be irresponsible, it would be unwise, and it would be reckless to invoke Article 16 as a response to the proposals from the European Commission”, he argued in a message to Irish MPs.
Martin was apparently referring to European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans recently saying that Brussels was “bending over backwards” to reach an agreement with the UK to resolve the two’s dispute on the future of the NIP.
Taoiseach Martin cautioned that “if such an act [the triggering of Article 16] was to be taken by the British government, it would have far-reaching implications for the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union”, adding that “it would also have implications for the relationship between the United Kingdom government and the Irish government”.
London, Brussels at Loggerheads Over NI Protocol
As part of the Brexit agreement that came into force in January, there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but under NIP, all goods and animal-based products coming from the rest of Great Britain must be checked upon arrival to see if they comply with EU sanitary regulations.
The UK government has argued that the protocol is not working, as it causes delays and interruptions to goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country and irritates loyalists to the British crown who believe their place within the union could be affected, thus threatening the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that put an end to 30 years of armed conflicts.
In October, the EU offered to cut checks on food, plant, and animal products by 80% and paperwork for transport companies by half, but London is pushing for renegotiating the entire NI protocol.