EU threatens trade war if UK triggers Article 16

Article 16 will not be triggered by the Government during the Cop26 climate change summit, which ends next week, despite EU fears that action is imminent.

Maros Sefcovic at EU headquarters in Brussels following a meeting with Lord Frost on Friday - VIRGINIA MAYO © VIRGINIA MAYO Maros Sefcovic at EU headquarters in Brussels following a meeting with Lord Frost on Friday – VIRGINIA MAYO

The mechanism, which would see the UK attempt to unilaterally suspend parts of the Brexit agreement over Northern Ireland, could be used near the end of this month at the earliest, according to UK sources.

Government insiders stress that a final decision has not yet been taken about taking the move, but with negotiations stalling this week, the chance of solving the impasse looks slim.

Talks about how to make changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which imposes checks on goods travelling from Great Britain and Northern Ireland, continued throughout this week.

But on Friday, there was still no public sign of a breakthrough. Instead there was a fresh round of warnings of what would come if the UK triggers Article 16 in a bid to end the checks.

Brussels threatens trade war 

Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice-president leading the Brexit talks for the EU, threatened Britain with a trade war if it triggered Article 16.

Speaking following a three-hour meeting on Friday in Brussels, Mr Sefcovic told reporters: “The Commission has been engaging intensively with the UK to find common ground within our respective positions and to bring stability and predictably to the people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

“We have spared no effort in preparing this package and bringing it across the finishing line.”

Responding to speculation that the UK could move to override the Brexit treaty, he added: “We hear a lot on Article 16 at the moment. Let there be no doubt that triggering Article 16… would have serious consequences.”

Any such move would plunge UK-EU relations into turmoil and would be a “rejection” of the bloc’s efforts to rework the Northern Ireland Protocol, Mr Sefcovic said.

Sefcovic: ‘We have seen no move at all from the UK side’

Following another round of deadlocked talks over the issue, Mr Sefcovic said he was disappointed that British negotiators had refused to consider the bloc’s plans to cut up to 80 per cent of customs controls in Northern Ireland.

“This was a big move by us, but we have seen no move at all from the UK side,” Mr Sefcovic said. “I found this disappointing, and once again I urge the UK Government to engage with us sincerely.”

The Slovak diplomat will travel to London next week for further talks, which he described as “important” for the future of Northern Ireland.

An EU source told The Telegraph: “The risk of triggering Article 16 appears to be very substantial.”

Time is running out, warns Lord Frost 

Earlier in the day, Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, warned time was running out for both sides to find an agreement over a new agreement for Northern Ireland, as he said the UK could still unilaterally override the protocol by triggering Article 16.

Arriving at the Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters, he said: “We hope to make some progress but honestly the gap between us is still quite significant, but let’s see where we can get to.

“We’re not going to trigger Article 16 today, but Article 16 is very much on the table and has been since July.

“Time is running out on these talks. If we are to make progress, we need to make progress soon and our preference is to make progress and see if we can reach an agreement.”

Lord Frost delivers a press statement ahead of a meeting on post brexit negotiation with Maros Sefcovic on Friday - Shutterstock © Provided by The Telegraph Lord Frost delivers a press statement ahead of a meeting on post brexit negotiation with Maros Sefcovic on Friday – Shutterstock

In the event of Britain triggering Article 16, Brussels sources are relaxed that this would not dramatically change the state of the current talks.

After an initial response, sources said it would lead to the same negotiators sitting around the same tables attempting to thrash out the same solutions.

Before further talks between Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic, the bloc would likely hit back with punitive tariffs on high-value British exports, stricter controls of British lorries and suspension of the data transfer arrangements with the UK.

Belgium suggested the Commission could move to scrap the wider EU-UK trade agreement if Article 16 is triggered by Britain.

Speaking to Bloomberg TV, Vincent Van Peteghem, a Belgian deputy prime minister, added: “It’s important that the negotiations continue and that we have a good relationship with the UK.”

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