The European Union (EU) has warned the UK against triggering unilateral emergency provisions in the Brexit deal, after the representatives of the two sides held a meeting in Brussels to negotiate about disputes over trade across the Irish border.
There will be “serious consequences” if the UK triggers Article 16, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic warned after meeting with UK Brexit Minister David Frost on Friday.
Sefcovic stressed that the move would be “serious for Northern Ireland as it would lead to instability and unpredictability.”
Article 16 of the Northern Ireland (NI) protocol, which addresses the emergency provisions, allows both the UK and the EU to suspend any part of the agreement that causes “economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade.”
The NI protocol was agreed as part of the Brexit deal to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. According to this protocol, NI remains in the EU’s single market for goods as well as in Great Britain’s market, creating a trade border between NI and Great Britain, which requires transitioning goods to be checked and controlled.
The EU has proposed measures to ease these checks, but the UK is demanding fundamental reform, and there is growing speculation that it will trigger Article 16.
Sefcovic said triggering Article 16 “would mean a rejection of EU efforts to find a consensual solution to the implementation of the protocol,” adding that despite a “big move” by the EU on its proposals, “until today we have seen no move at all from the UK side.”
Meanwhile, in a statement issued by the UK government following Friday’s meeting, a spokesperson said Frost had indicated that “progress had been limited and that the EU’s proposals did not currently deal effectively with the fundamental difficulties in the way the protocol was operating.” Prior to the meeting, Frost had asserted that his government was not intending to trigger any emergency measures, although this is “very much on the table and has been since July.”
The development comes after Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin warned the UK that triggering Article 16 would be “reckless” and “irresponsible” and have “far-reaching consequences.”
Fears are growing that triggering Article 16 will potentially rupture the UK’s already strained relations with the EU.