As the holidays approach, one Christmas staple might be in short supply in Northern Ireland because of a dispute that could result in the suspension of an important trade clause.
Christmas crackers, noisemakers popular throughout the United Kingdom during the holiday season, might not arrive in Northern Ireland, the Associated Press reported. Northern Ireland is part of the U.K, with its land border shared with European Union (EU) member Ireland.
According to British officials, the potential delay is attributed to a customs border established by Brexit giving Northern Ireland a unique trade status that grants open borders, but the new customs border is causing problems.
The EU failed to renegotiate trade rules for Northern Ireland with Britain. The attempt comes after EU rules on chilled meats resulted in a shortage of sausage in the region. Britain believes that the crackers could be next if talks eventually do not work out.
With talks on hold, Britain has threatened to suspend the Northern Ireland trade deal under Article 16. The clause would suspend trading from either side in Northern Ireland. Negotiator Maros Sefcovic said that triggering Article 16 “would have serious consequences…for Northern Ireland.”
EU spokesman Daniel Ferrie said that the union is “working extremely hard to find solutions to some of the problems that have been put to us by people in Northern Ireland.”
Talks over the Northern Ireland trade deal will continue next week in London.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
The U.K. government said after unsuccessful talks between its negotiator David Frost and his counterpart, Sefcovic, that the EU offers to revamp the Northern Ireland deal, which the 27-nation bloc saw as far-reaching and unprecedented, “did not currently deal effectively with the fundamental difficulties.”
Beyond rejecting his proposals, Sefcovic retorted that “we have seen no move at all from the U.K. side. I find this disappointing.”
On top of the dispute over how to smooth the trade in goods in the U.K.’s Northern Ireland, where the complicated Brexit deal has left the region also in the EU’s single trading zone, both sides also made no progress in negotiations over symbolically important U.K. fishing licenses off France.
He said that suspending the parts of the Brexit agreement under the so-called Art. 16 procedure “is very much on the table and has been since July.”
Analysts say it would only be a small step from such a suspension to a full-blown trade war.
The current deal that Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed has been controversial from the start since it means a new customs border in the Irish Sea for goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K., even though they are part of the same country.
The EU said it has already offered major concessions in cutting red tape for trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, but London also wants to get rid of the legal oversight of the EU’s top court, something Brussels has set as a red line.
Issues over fish licenses have further complicated relations. Although fishing is a tiny industry economically for both Britain and France, the issue of boats’ access to waters that divide the two maritime powers has flared into a major irritant on top of the Northern Ireland issue.
France said Britain is breaking a commitment of the EU-U.K. trade agreement reached last year by not giving sufficient licenses to its Normandy fishermen seeking access to Crown dependencies Jersey and Guernsey. Britain says it still has insufficient proof some of the fishermen have historical rights to go there.