U.K. Business Wants Johnson to Make Peace With EU on N. Ireland
(Bloomberg) -- Britain’s biggest business lobby group urged Boris Johnson’s government to back down in its dispute with the European Union over Northern Ireland, telling the prime minister not to follow through on his threat to suspend parts of the Brexit divorce deal he signed with the bloc.
“We shouldn’t be going anywhere near an Article 16,” Confederation of British Industry President Karan Bilimoria said to reporters on Tuesday, referring to the mechanism for unilaterally halting parts of the accord related to Northern Ireland. “It’s in everyone’s benefit that we resolve this.”
The intervention comes amid signs that tensions between the U.K. and EU have cooled in recent days. Whereas the bloc had feared the U.K. was on the verge of triggering Article 16 -- to which the EU has threatened retaliation which could result in a trade war -- the tone of recent talks over post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland has improved and those involved are more optimistic.
In another sign that negotiations have some way to run, U.K. Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan told the Daily Telegraph newspaper Article 16 would “absolutely not” be invoked before Christmas.
Still, the British government continues to argue that it would be justified in suspending the co-called Northern Ireland protocol due to the disruption to trade ministers say it is causing.
Johnson’s spokesman told reporters on Tuesday it is putting no timetable on triggering Article 16, while Brexit minister David Frost said in a speech Monday that resolving the issue is in the “highest national interest.”
Frost is calling for a significant overhaul of the existing treaty, while European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic is proposing concessions within the framework of the current deal, such as reducing the frequency of customs checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea. They are due to meet in London Friday.
If the two sides can’t reach an agreement, Frost has said the U.K. stands ready to invoke Article 16. Doing so would start a one-month notification period during which talks would continue, before any concrete action could be taken.
Bilimoria, whose organization represents 190,000 firms in the U.K., said businesses in Northern Ireland don’t want more uncertainty over the post-Brexit settlement and would prefer better ties between Britain and the EU.
“Our Northern Ireland members tell us very, very clearly they want to get on with it,” he said. “They want to normalize relations.”
He also called for a broader improvement in the U.K.-EU relationship, in areas such as financial services and mutual recognition of professional qualifications to help businesses and boost commerce.
“The basic agreement we have with the European Union is a starting point,” he said. “We’ve got to now build on it.”
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