U.K. Says Ready to Quit Post-Brexit Deal Without N. Ireland Fix
(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Brexit minister David Frost repeated a threat to unilaterally revoke commitments made in its post-Brexit deal with the European Union if a resolution isn’t reached over Northern Ireland’s trade arrangement.
Frost is meeting his EU counterpart, Maros Sefcovic, in Brussels Friday in an effort to resolve a stand off over the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, an agreement that allowed the U.K. to leave the bloc’s single market without creating a hard border on the island of Ireland. Frost has demanded extensive changes to the deal, saying it damages trade in the region.
Frost has threatened to invoke Article 16 of the protocol, which allows either side to introduce safeguard measures in case of “economic, societal or environmental difficulties.” The EU has weighed terminating its trade deal with the U.K. if it follows through with the threat, which would lead to the imposition of tariffs, quotas and other trade barriers.
“We’re not going to trigger Article 16 today,” Frost said. “But Article 16 is very much on the table.”
The dispute not only threatens to revive sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland but also blow up the wider trade deal Britain and the EU signed last year -- putting the U.K. back on track for a “no deal” Brexit. Relations between London and Brussels have already been strained by a separate dispute over fishing.
Unlike the rest of the U.K., Northern Ireland has remained inside the bloc’s single market for goods, meaning that products arriving from the rest of Britain are subject to customs formalities. The EU has offered to reduce customs checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland by half, and inspections on many food products by 80%.
“Time is running out on these talks if we’re to make progress,” Frost said. “But honestly the gap between us is still quite significant.”
Belgian deputy Prime Minister Vincent Van Peteghem told Bloomberg Television on Friday that he supported the EU in taking a hard stance with Great Britain over the issue.
Van Peteghem said that the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, should weigh the option of scrapping the EU-U.K. trade deal if Britain revokes its commitments to the Northern Ireland protocol, which the U.K. agreed to as part of the divorce from the EU.
“It’s important that negotiations continue and that we have a good relationship with the U.K.,” Van Peteghem said.
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