Robust EU response if UK triggers Article 16 – Coveney

The EU will respond “very robustly” if the British Government triggers Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, Simon Coveney has warned.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 8:01 am

The Irish Foreign Affairs Minister said he believes that a deal is possible between the two sides over the post-Brexit protocol, but added that trust has been compromised by the UK approach.

Under the protocol, NI effectively remains in the EU’s single market for goods.

This helps to avoid a hard border with Ireland but increases checks and barriers to trade on goods crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain, making it a source of tension in unionist communities.

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Protocol protest, Newtownards Road, East Belfast. Photograph by Declan Roughan / Press Eye

The UK and the EU have been locked in negotiations over the implementation of the protocol and Brexit Minister Lord Frost has said the difficulties caused mean that use of Article 16 would be justified as a safeguard.

This would suspend parts of the agreement and risk a major escalation in tensions with the EU.

Mr Coveney was giving evidence to the Seanad Brexit Committee, where he said that he wanted to see future relations between the EU and UK develop positively.

He added: “In order to achieve this, parties must work together. When trust is compromised, progress is threatened and the recent UK approach to the protocol has unfortunately called that trust into question.

“I believe the remaining issues can be resolved, however to do so we need to get a much more positive, much more stable and much more trusting EU/UK relationship.

Mr Coveney told the committee that NI was better off with the protocol.

Northern Ireland has this unique opportunity to access a very large UK single market, but also a much larger EU single market.

“There is potentially a pull factor into Northern Ireland in terms of foreign direct investment – if the protocol was stable and predictable you could access both markets from Northern Ireland.”

Asked to give an update on the current negotiations, Mr Coveney said there had been a “change in tone” from the UK two weeks ago.

He added: “They are effectively suggesting that if they can’t get the compromise they are looking for from the EU they may act unilaterally and use Article 16 to set aside elements of the protocol that they don’t believe are necessary.

“I don’t believe that the EU will respond well. In fact I know they won’t. They will respond very robustly and... regard it as a fairly serious breach of good faith.”