Northern Ireland news

Brussels gearing up for Britain triggering Article 16

The EU believes Britain could trigger Article 16. Picture by Mal McCann

THE EUROPEAN Union is gearing up for the British government's triggering of Article 16 and a further escalation of the row over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Amid fears that the move could lead to greater political and economic uncertainty, officials on the EU-UK Specialised Committee met yesterday in Brussels in the hope of ironing out issues around the post-Brexit trade arrangements.

But diplomats were at the same time warning that Britain's unilateral action on Article 16, which has been threatened for months, "could happen at any time" and that it was a "serious possibility".

The EU would challenge the move on legal grounds, RTÉ reported, but it would also likely spark instability and the possibility of hikes in tariffs on UK goods.

South Down MP Chris Hazzard said businesses needed "certainty" and urged the EU-UK to listen to them as they sought "modifications and easements".

"Triggering Article 16 will achieve nothing," the Sinn Féin MP told The Irish News.

"It is a diversionary stunt from a British government that is desperately trying to divert attention from a looming winter of discontent, as food, energy, fuel and labour shortages continue to cause havoc in post-Brexit Britain."

SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole said people and businesses didn't want "escalation and confrontation".

"We need agreed solutions and to maximise the opportunities of the protocol," he said.

"It's clear the EU is in solution mode but the UK has to want solutions rather than conflict – it isn't clear that they do."

Yesterday's Brussels meeting, which was attended by a representative from the Stormont executive, included a British government update on delivering the protocol during what it termed the “standstill”.

At the same time, EU officials were outlining the bloc's potential responses to any triggering of Article 16, which one signalled could be soon.

"The commission is internally of the view that Article 16 could happen at any time, that it hasn't gone away, that it's a very serious possibility," one source told RTÉ.

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