Brexit: Europe and Britain prepare for unrest over fears that Boris Johnson could break the agreement he signed

In a speech in Brussels just over a week ago, Frost suggested that if the EU did not give in to its demands, Britain could try to trigger Article 16 of the Protocol – a kind of emergency brake that allows both sides to unilaterally implement measures, or “security measures”. , if the Protocol leads to persistent “serious economic, social or environmental difficulties” or to “diversion of trade.”

“Article 16 is very much on the table,” he told Reuters. “Time is running out.”

The UK requirements include the removal of Europe’s Supreme Court of Justice, the European Court of Justice, from any regulatory role in the protocol and the reduction of controls and paperwork for goods moving between the British mainland and Northern Ireland.

But the European Union insists that Britain cannot try to renegotiate the agreement reached by Johnson and Frost just 11 months ago to avert a potentially catastrophic “no-deal” trade scenario – and has indicated that it is ready to play hardball on the issue.

Frost met again on Friday with European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič – their fourth such meeting in the past month. Their comments afterwards suggested that neither party wants to abandon talks and start a trade war yet.

At a press conference, Šefčovič welcomed what he called “the change in tone in the discussion with David Frost,” and said he hoped this would “lead to tangible results for the people of Northern Ireland,” according to Reuters.

Frost said “significant gaps” were left and that Brussels needs to address “the whole range of issues” that Britain has raised. But he agreed that intensified negotiations would take place in Brussels next week, according to one announcement posted on Twitter.

Back and forth has created fears of further Brexit-related unrest, even as Britain’s Conservative government struggles with ongoing supply chain problems exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, amid concerns over how far each side is willing to go.

“I think there’s essentially a scoping exercise going on – or another way of saying it is a game of chicken – and both sides are testing the seriousness of the other,” said Catherine Barnard, a professor at European law and employment law at the University of Cambridge, CNN reported.

The latest tensions are coming on the heels of an ugly spit between Britain and France over post-Brexit fishing rights. “It may well be that the French used the fishing conflict partly to get what they want on licenses, but also partly to show that the French are ready to play dirty,” Barnard said.

“The EU has informed about all the things that the EU would do if Britain were to release Article 16 illegally,” Barnard explained. “To trigger Article 16 in itself is not an illegal act. What is illegal is to use it to completely rewrite the Protocol.”

Maros Sefcovic, Vice-President of the European Commission, speaks at a press conference following the negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol in London on Friday.

Former Prime Minister criticizes Britain’s approach

Despite the ongoing negotiations, Frost’s remarks in Brussels have sparked widespread speculation that the British government may be preparing to trigger Article 16 immediately after.

Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major told the BBC last weekend that he suspected such a move could take place within days of the end of the UN COP26 climate conference, which is hosting Britain.
France is summoning the captain of the seized British fishing boat to court, as Britain warns 'two can play that game'

This would be “colossally stupid,” Major said, warning that suspending parts of the protocol would “add to destabilization in Northern Ireland” and erode Britain’s ties with both Europe and Washington. The United Kingdom negotiated the protocol “with all the finesse of a brick,” he added.

There are already signs of rising tensions in Northern Ireland. Four men hijacked and set fire to a bus in a pro-British unionist community in a suburb of Belfast last Sunday, Reuters reported, days after two masked men set fire to another bus in an attack that local media suggested was linked to discontent on trade issues after Brexit.

The “security measures” that could be implemented under Article 16 are not specified in the Protocol, but may include steps such as: that both parties are introducing targeted tariffs, analysts say. There would also be an arbitration process.

However, Johnson and Frost’s reluctance to the agreement they themselves signed last December has fueled fears that the UK government could try to use the Article 16 mechanism to achieve a broader goal of rewriting the agreement.

Johnson’s government could try to do this by suspending the provisions of the protocol that keeps Northern Ireland in the EU Customs Union and applies EU rules to goods, Barnard suggested, thereby undermining the entire protocol. “If Britain were to do that, the EU would have made it clear that it would retaliate by force … in the form of a trade war,” she said.

There have even been some suggestions that the EU could suspend the main trade agreement or trade cooperation agreement with the UK, Emily Lydgate, Deputy Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory and Associate Professor of Law at the University of Sussex, told CNN.

Frost appeared to soften his language a bit in the British House of Lords on Wednesday, saying he would not give up negotiating with the EU “unless and until it is clear that no more can be done. We are certainly not on it time yet. “

But he kept the emergency brake on the table, adding: “However, if we reach that point, Article 16 safeguards will be our only option.”

On the same day, Ireland’s Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar warned that the release of Article 16 would not result in a better deal for Britain.

“The message I want to send to Boris Johnson is that we have an agreement with Northern Ireland, we have an agreement with trade with the EU – do not put it at risk,” Varadkar said according to Irish. Times.

“You were involved in negotiating it, you own it, it was hard won, it is a mistake to think that by escalating tensions or by trying to withdraw from part of it, you will end up with a better agreement: you won ‘t. “

‘A dangerous game’

The protocol was agreed between the UK and the EU to reflect Northern Ireland’s special status: out of the EU, along with the rest of the UK, but sharing a soft border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.

Under the protocol, goods can flow freely between Northern Ireland and the Republic, avoiding the need for a hard border – an essential measure to prevent a return to sectarian violence on the island. The United Kingdom agreed that it would, in turn, protect the EU’s internal market by enforcing controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from the British mainland and effectively drawing a customs border down into the Irish Sea.

The full implementation of these controls has been delayed during repeated extended “standstill periods”. Nevertheless, there have been problems with the supply chain, and trade unionists in Northern Ireland feel let down by the Whitehall government.

Vehicles are waiting to board a ferry to Northern Ireland at the Stena Line Cairnryan Terminal on 9 September 2021 in Cairnryan, Scotland.
The British government, in a paper published in July, called for a “significant change” to the protocol and has since effectively sought to renegotiate key elements, including the role of the European Court of Justice in enforcing the application of its rules.

In October, the EU responded with an offer to streamline compliance monitoring under the agreement. It was a “reasonably generous offer,” Barnard said, but was conditional on Britain taking steps that have not yet been implemented.

Carlo Petrucci, associate professor of EU law at the University of Essex, said the British government’s approach seemed motivated by domestic policy and that it was difficult to say how serious it was. Triggering Article 16, which could lead to retaliatory measures such as quotas or tariffs imposed by the EU, would be a “dangerous game,” he said.

Such a move could also hurt Britain’s status as it seeks to negotiate other trade agreements. “It is clear that the UK Government is aware that there is a loss of international credibility at the moment as it wants to renounce the protocol,” Petrucci told CNN.

Hearing in the House of Lords on Wednesday, Frost – accused by opponents of “saber-rattling” over the protocol – insisted that the British government wanted to conclude a negotiated agreement with the EU. It was, he said, “the best way forward to stability, sustainability and prosperity in Northern Ireland.”

Frost added: “I do not think the threats swirling around a reaction to Article 16 are in any way useful, but that is, of course, the EU’s case.”

American pressure

Later on Wednesday, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, emerged from negotiations with US President Joe Biden that the US was solid in the EU corner on the issue.

“President Biden and I, we share the assessment that it is important for peace and stability on the island of Ireland to keep the withdrawal agreement and adhere to the protocol. This protocol has managed to reverse the difficult circle that Brexit caused,” she told reporters without for the White House.

“As a European Union, we are willing to show the greatest flexibility, and we have shown the greatest flexibility within the protocol – but it is important to stick to what we have agreed and signed together to work with.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will speak outside the White House on November 10 after meeting with US President Joe Biden.

U.S. pressure may be a factor in Britain downplaying its rhetoric after appearing ready to trigger Article 16 when COP26 was out of the way, Lydgate said.

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“It is clear that the United States has gone against this, and therefore it is a rather courageous move for Britain to take a political decision that makes the EU angry and alienates and makes the United States angry,” she said.

“My feeling is that the UK is to some extent sensitive to the damage to reputation that this could cause and that they are not likely to trigger Article 16 immediately, but they are also not going to step down in the sense that they say that they accept the EU’s reform proposals and put an end to the conflict. “

Instead, Lydgate said, it looks like Britain and the EU will enter into another period of discussions, which will let the problem drag on.

Meanwhile, the EU is keen to show Britain that it is “no pushover,” Barnard said, and to demonstrate to Poland and Hungary, two member states currently challenging the bloc’s legal status quo, as well as to other global trading partners, “that the EU takes the treaties it signs seriously.”

“The effort is much greater than just the EU-UK relationship,” she said. “The political question is whether Boris Johnson has the stomach for a fight of this kind … There’s already quite a lot on his plate.”

CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.


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