Britain moves to calm Brexit crisis over Northern Ireland

Britain moves to calm Brexit crisis over Northern Ireland insisting it wants a deal to end trade dispute as Lord Frost meets EU counterpart in London TODAY

  • Lord Frost is due to meet his Brussels counterpart Maros Sefcovic in London 
  • The two sides are at loggerheads over the Northern Ireland Protocol
  • Avoids hard customs border on the island of Ireland by putting it in Irish Sea 
  • But unionists complain checks are hitting business and cut it off from rest of UK

Britain sought to calm a row with the EU over Northern Ireland today, playing down the risk of unilateral action to scrape hated goods checks.

Brexit Minister Lord Frost is due to meet his Brussels counterpart Maros Sefcovic in London today and tell him the UK wants a deal to solve the post-Brexit impasse.

The two sides are at loggerheads over the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit agreement, which seeks to avoid a hard customs border on the island of Ireland by introducing one for goods crossing from Britain to Ulster.

Boris Johnson has threatened to unilaterally halt the checks using Article 16 of the protocol, amid fury from the unionist community and complaints that checks are hitting business.

But that sparked warnings from Brussels that it would retaliate, potentially throttling trade with the continent ahead of Christmas. 

European Commission vice-president Mr Sefcovic told a private meeting of MEPs that there will be no breakthrough without a direct intervention from the Prime Minister. 

A Whitehall source told the Times today that using Article 16 was not a foregone concluding, saying; ‘Triggering Article 16 does not solve the problems we face. Even if we were to do it, eventually we’d still have to get back round the table.’ 

It came as Irish minister for European affairs Thomas Byrne warned the UK that a ‘tough guy’ approach when it comes to Northern Ireland will lead to ‘disaster’.

Brexit Minister Lord Frost is due to meet his Brussels counterpart Maros Sefcovic in London today and tell him the UK wants a deal to solve the post=Brexit impasse.

European Commission vice-president Mr Sefcovic told a private meeting of MEPs that there will be no breakthrough without a direct intervention from the Prime Minister. 

Boris Johnson has threatened to unilaterally halt the checks using Article 16 of the protocol, amid fury from the unionist community and complaints that they are hitting business.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if there is a serious danger of a full-scale trade war, Mr Byrne said: ‘There is a serious danger of complete instability in Northern Ireland and that’s what motivates the Irish Government in all of our dealings in relation to the protocol.’

He said the countries involved have worked together for decades to ensure stability, saying ‘we now have a division, it seems, because of threats by the British Government to, what they say, is to suspend the protocol under Article 16. We’re not entirely clear what that’s about.’

Challenged on current instability in Northern Ireland and the current arrangements, he said: ‘I don’t think that the people who are burning buses in Northern Ireland at the moment … are fully aware of all of the details and the intricacies of the protocol. What they need to see, and what people in Northern Ireland need to see, is both governments working together.’

He said the EU has listened to the concerns of Northern Ireland and is in ‘solutions mode’, adding: ‘A tough approach, or a tough guy approach, when it comes to Northern Ireland can only be counter-productive and will lead to disaster.’

He said he is ‘very glad despite that gloomy atmosphere’ that there are talks taking place on Friday, adding ‘there is a prize of stability and peace in Northern Ireland’ as well as continuing good diplomatic relations between Britain and the EU.

In October, the EU offered a series of changes to the protocol, which would remove 80 per cent of checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland.

But the UK Government wants further alterations, including removing the role of the judges in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as the arbitrators of disputes, something the EU has ruled out.

The talks over the protocol, which is designed to maintain free-flowing borderless trade on the island of Ireland, remain deadlocked. 

Lord Frost told the House of Lords on Wednesday that triggering Article 16 – which would effectively suspend elements of the arrangements – would be the UK’s only option if the dispute was not resolved.

He there was ‘a real opportunity to turn away from confrontation, to move beyond our current difficulties and put in place a new, and better, equilibrium’ in the talks.

But he added it was ‘not inevitable’ that Article 16 would be triggered. 

The Irish Government has held talks with US President Joe Biden’s administration about the protocol.

On Thursday, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said contact with the US government was designed to ‘encourage progress’ in negotiations.

The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods, resulting in some checks for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.

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