Brexit POLL: Should Boris order Frost to trigger Article 16 after months of EU talks?

Frost calls for ‘flexible’ approach to Northern Ireland Protocol

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Number 10 said “limited” progress had been made in talks between Brexit minister Lord Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels today. Mr Sefcovic appeared visibly annoyed at a press briefing this afternoon, where he said talks were “disappointing”.

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

“Our package as a whole will provide significant changes for operators on the ground. It would result in strength and opportunities for the people of Northern Ireland.

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

Mr Sefcovic has essentially asked Lord Frost to meet him halfway with a deal that many political commentators said was generous, but Lord Frost has refused to back down on his demands.

The EU’s new Northern Ireland Protocol offer agreed to cut down 80 percent of checks on goods which will mean “low risk” British goods like chilled meats and medicines can be sold in Northern Ireland without strenuous checks.

But Lord Frost has insisted the power of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) must be removed from Northern Ireland because Brexit was meant to ensure that the EU no longer had any kind of control over any part of the UK.

When offering the new EU deal on October 15, Mr Sefcovic said: “You cannot have access to the single market without the jurisdiction of the ECJ.”

This is because one of the major roles of the ECJ is to interpret and enforce the rules of the EU’s single market, so for Northern Ireland to still trade in the single market, it has to accept the institution that governs the single market.

Critics have argued that Lord Frost’s refusal to back down over the ECJ is a political battle of egos, rather than a fight for in the interest of the Northern Irish people, who have already lived under the ECJ since 1973.

Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheal Martin and Northern Irish deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill are happy with the deal proposed by Mr Šefčovič and say it is well put together.

Mr Martin commented: “The commission have demonstrated imagination, innovation, and also a listening ear to the people who matter, the people who are in Northern Ireland, who are on the ground dealing with these issues.”

Ms O’Neill smiled as she said: “I think this represents progress and I think very much fulfils the commitments that have been made in the protocol to protect the All-Island economy, to ensure no hard border on this island and to make sure we protect the Good Friday Agreement.”

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Unfriendly negotiations between the EU and the UK have been ongoing since Boris Johnson signed the terms of the Brexit deal at the end of 2019.

With both Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic refusing to budge on the ECJ issue, the possibility of triggering Article 16 is becoming more and more feasible.

Should Northern Irish ministers have more of a say than Westminster in the Northern Ireland Protocol? Have your voice heard in the comment section.

Article 16 is a safeguard written into the Northern Ireland protocol agreement which gives both the UK and the EU an emergency cord option to suspend the protocol, if it has given rise to unintended adverse outcomes.

These are defined as “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade” in either territory.

Triggering Article 16 will suspend the terms of the Brexit deal and force the UK and the EU to find ‘a commonly acceptable solution’ as a matter of urgency.

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It seems Lord Frost does not want to pull the emergency cord yet but said it was “very much on the table and has been since July”.

A UK Government spokesman reported that Lord Frost had said: “the EU’s proposals did not currently deal effectively with the fundamental difficulties in the way the Protocol was operating”.

The spokesman said: “He added that, in the UK view, these gaps could still be bridged through further intensive discussions.

“He underlined that the UK’s preference was still to find a consensual solution that protected the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland.”

But Mr Sefcovic said invoking the protocol would have “serious consequences”.

“Serious for Northern Ireland, as it would lead to instability and unpredictability and serious also for the EU UK relations in general, as it would mean a rejection of EU efforts to find a consensual solution to the implementation of the protocol,” he said.

There is no set timescale on how long talks with the EU can continue, and Lord Frost will meet Mr Sefcovic again in London next week to soldier on with negotiations.

Do you think Lord Frost should trigger Article 16 in London next week? Let us know in the comment section below.

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