Brandon Lewis says British government is seeking 'sustainable' solution to protocol issues
THE BRITISH government is seeking a "sustainable" long-term solution to issues around the Irish Sea border and will negotiate mitigations with the European Union in "good faith", the secretary of state has said.
Brandon Lewis was speaking after Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney warned that triggering Article 16 to override parts of the protocol would be a "hugely problematic backward step".
The Fine Gael deputy leader said such a move would be a "huge mistake", coming ahead of an expected intensification of EU and British government effort to resolve problems around the implementation of the post-Brexit trade arrangements.
Mr Coveney said he thought it was unlikely the British government would trigger Article 16, even though Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he did not rule it out.
The Tory leader said he wanted the EU to present proposals to fix the protocol and that he believed it could "in principle work" if it was "fixed".
Mr Lewis told BBC's Sunday Politics that while the conditions have been met to trigger the clause in the deal struck with the EU, it was an approach the British government wanted to avoid.
"We are showing our good faith in wanting to negotiate a proper, sustainable, solution by not actually triggering it," he said.
"We have continued through this year to see different issues come up and we take the view that we need to fix the underlying problems."
He said talks with the EU should given space because it was "the right thing to do".
But the secretary of state conceded there will always be a requirement for some form of regulatory checks between Britain and the north.
"So some form of structure around that isn't going to change – what we need to do is resolve these issues that are currently there with the protocol," he said.
"Then, businesses in Northern Ireland, as you alluded to earlier on, do have a huge competitive advantage that as part of the United Kingdom they can deliver on for the people of Northern Ireland."
Mr Lewis said that he was hopeful that DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson would not follow up on a threat to collapse Stormont.
Mr Coveney told RTÉ on Saturday that it was his understanding the British government was "not likely to trigger Article 16".
"It would be a hugely problematic backward step in relationships between the UK government and the EU institutions at a time actually when we are trying to build trust between the (Maros) Sefcovic and (Lord David) Frost teams," he said.
"The idea of that, when I think both sides know that this month is going to be a very important month, particularly the second half of it, I think that would be politically a huge mistake."