The foreign secretary’s restatement of the government’s readiness to trigger Article 16 – unilaterally overriding parts of the post-Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland – is “not very helpful”, the EU’s ambassador to the UK has told Sky News.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Liz Truss said she remains “willing” to trigger the mechanism contained in the Northern Ireland protocol if needed.
However, the foreign secretary said she will suggest “constructive proposals” to her EU counterpart, Maros Sefcovic, this week during their first face-to-face talks in a bid to “resolve the situation”.
Ms Truss wrote in the Sunday paper: “My priority is to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland. I want a negotiated solution but if we have to use legitimate provisions including Article 16, I am willing to do that.
“This safeguard clause was explicitly designed – and agreed to by all sides – to ease acute problems because of the sensitivity of the issues at play.
“The EU has already invoked this article to introduce a hard border for vaccine exports and, even in the act of withdrawing it, insisted on its right to do so again in the future.”
The protocol is a key part of the Brexit withdrawal deal struck between London and Brussels and is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
EU ambassador warns against ‘agitating the issue’ of Article 16
Reacting to her comments, Joao Vale de Almeida told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “We’ve heard this before from the government, so we’re not surprised. We are not too impressed.
“We still believe it’s not very helpful that we keep agitating the issue of Article 16.
“I think what we should focus on – at least that’s where we are focused on – is trying to find solutions for difficulties in the implementation of the protocol.”
The ambassador called for “new momentum” in the talks, adding: “We are eager to reconnect with the British government, now with the foreign secretary, and looking forward to meetings in a few days in Britain.
“We are eager to reconnect but we are even more eager to find compromises because we need to move on. It’s been too long.”
Issues with protocol ‘myriad and manifest’
Ms Truss was handed responsibility for the negotiations last month after Lord Frost resigned as Brexit minister.
She said the current issues are “myriad and manifest” – citing the bureaucracy faced when sending parcels between Britain and Northern Ireland and problems procuring kosher food.
“But let me be clear, I will not sign up to anything which sees the people of Northern Ireland unable to benefit from the same decisions on taxation and spending as the rest of the UK, or which still sees goods moving within our own country being subject to checks,” she said.
Last week, Mr Sefcovic warned that “the foundation of the entire deal” brokered between the UK and the EU would be jeopardised if Ms Truss triggered Article 16.
“This is a very distracting element in the discussions. You try to achieve something together and – bam – there’s the threat of Article 16 again,” he told German newspaper Der Spiegel.
“It touches on the fundamentals of our relationship.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol was the most complicated part of the Brexit negotiations, and it is the foundation of the entire deal. Without the protocol, the whole system will collapse. We must prevent that at any cost.”