Dublin preparing emergency plans for EU-UK trade war

Dublin is preparing emergency plans for a UK-EU trade war sparked by Britain overriding the Northern Ireland Protocol, Leo Varadkar has warned,

Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson held talks in 2019, which are credited with leading to a breakthrough in talks over the Withdrawal Agreement and the Irish border. - PA © PA Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson held talks in 2019, which are credited with leading to a breakthrough in talks over the Withdrawal Agreement and the Irish border. – PA

The Tánaiste, or deputy prime minister, of Ireland said his government was dusting down no deal Brexit plans prepared in case the UK left the EU without a withdrawal agreement or trade deal.

“We’re making preparations. We had a meeting yesterday of the Cabinet sub committee on Brexit essentially to dust down and restart our contingency preparations should we get into difficulty,” Mr Varadkar told the RTE broadcaster.

There is building expectation that the UK will trigger Article 16 of the protocol and unilaterally override parts of the treaty imposing checks on British goods entering Northern Ireland.

Irish and Belgian ministers have warned that if the UK was to invoke the clause, which Brussels says would break international law, the EU would retaliate.

The response could eventually lead to tariffs on British goods, the suspension of parts of the trade deal or even the cancellation of the whole agreement; although that would require a year’s notice.

Such measures would be problematic for Ireland because of the invisible Irish border because there would be a risk of British goods entering EU territory without being checked to ensure they meet EU standards.

Dublin feared being dragged out of the Single Market against its will in the case of a no deal Brexit during the negotiations over the withdrawal agreement and trade deal. It did not want to introduce checks on the border for fear the infrastructure would be targeted by Irish paramilitaries.

Among the ideas discussed at the time was carrying out checks away from the Irish border, although exact details of the contingency plans remained sketchy.

“I don’t think anybody wants to see the European Union suspending the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Britain,” Mr Varadkar said.

“If Britain were to act in such a way that it was resigning from the protocol, resigning from the Withdrawal Agreement I think the European Union would have no option other than to introduce what we call rebalancing measures to respond, and I really hope Britain doesn’t go down this road,” he added.

The European Commission and EU capitals on Tuesday denied it was making plans to launch a pre-emptive strike on the UK.

The protocol, which was agreed in 2019 but came into force when Brexit took legal effect on December 31, created an Irish Sea border with Britain to prevent a hard border with EU member Ireland.

Northern Ireland continues to follow some EU single market rules but gets dual access to both the UK and EU markets in return.

The British Government believes that the conditions for triggering the so-called “nuclear option” have been met because it is having a chilling effect on trade between the mainland and Northern Ireland.

There were growing fears the UK planned to take the action after the COP climate change conference in Glasgow and before Christmas, after it emerged ministers were working on plans to change UK law to ditch the checks.

Unionists argue that the protocol creates an unacceptable barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and have threatened to collapse Stormont unless a solution is found.

“Bear in mind that invoking Article 16 doesn’t set aside the protocol – some people think that, it does, it doesn’t,” Mr Varadkar said.

“It’s a safeguarding mechanism. The first thing that has to happen is we have to enter talks for about a month and what that really means — what it does allow Britain to do is to take unilateral measures, but they can only be time limited and they can only be proportionate.”

He added, “Brexit is kind of done, but this potentially undoes it and I don’t think it would be good for us, for Britain, and I don’t see how it would be good for Northern Ireland.”

Negotiations over the protocol have been ongoing since the European Commission offered to dramatically reduce the number of checks on British goods in return for bolstered market surveillance and full implementation of the protocol.

However, progress has been slow and there are deep divisions between the UK and EU over the role of the European Court of Justice in interpreting the implementation of EU law in Northern Ireland,

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