Northern Ireland news

Johnson refuses to rule out triggering article 16 of Brexit's NI Protocol

UUP peer Lord Reg Empey. Picture by Pacemaker
Aine Fox, PA and Suzanne McGonagle

BORIS Johnson has refused to rule out triggering Article 16 of Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol, and hinted at disagreement with the German chancellor on the issue.

The British prime minister described an "almost seamless harmony" between the UK and Germany on most issues during a briefing which focused mainly on support for Ukraine, but indicated the protocol was an area where there was friction.

Appearing alongside German leader Olaf Scholz at a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said he had raised the issue.

Asked about Article 16, he said: "We had discussion about this, as you can expect. It came up. I think I raised it."

He went on to say the result of the discussion was "entirely predictable".

He added: "The almost seamless harmony that you have observed between Britain and Germany today I would not wish in any way to interrupt by going into that any further.

"But what I will say is that, to answer your question 'would we take that off the table?' the use of Article 16, no clearly not, there is a problem."

The protocol has created new economic barriers on trade between Northern Ireland and Britain. Agreed by the UK and EU to ensure no hardening of the Irish land border post-Brexit, it has instead moved regulatory and customs checks to the Irish Sea, with Northern Ireland remaining in the EU single market for goods.

Earlier, Ulster Unionist peer Lord Reg Empey said there was growing speculation that Article 16 may be triggered after May 5 assembly election.

He claimed that talks between the EU and the UK on the protocol have "lost momentum in recent weeks" and that speculation was growing that London is "serious about getting these negotiations quickly concluded".

"There is of course the situation in Ukraine which is quite understandably taking up a lot of time and energy from both the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and the European Commission, but the talks cannot drag on forever and are having a destabilising effect here in Northern Ireland," he said.

"There are credible rumours at Westminster, that because of growing frustration amongst the UK negotiators, Article 16 may be triggered immediately after the assembly elections if no further progress is made. There is a feeling in some UK quarters that the EU may be playing things long in the hope that people here will come to accept the current situation as the status quo going forward.

"Article 16 is no panacea for our problems. This was made abundantly clear in an answer I received from Lord Frost dated 24 November 2021, in which he stated that 'Article 16 is a safeguard provision for addressing serious economic, societal and environmental difficulties'. It is part of the protocol. Triggering it does not affect the standing of the protocol as a whole. Government sources are now saying that it might send the message to Brussels that London is serious about getting these negotiations quickly concluded."

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