The European Union and the Irish Government have brushed off a threat from British foreign secretary Liz Truss to trigger article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol if she fails to win more concessions from European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.
João Vale de Almeida, the EU’s ambassador to Britain, said it was not helpful to “keep agitating the issue” of unilaterally suspending parts of the protocol.
“We’ve heard this before from the government, so we’re not surprised. We are not too impressed but we still believe it’s not very helpful that we keep agitating the issue of article 16,” he told Sky News.
“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.”
An Irish Government source described her comments as “bluster” and written for “Westminster”.
“We believe a deal to make the protocol work smoother can be done with honest effort from both sides,” the source said, adding: “We don’t get worked up by articles like these.” Fine Gael’s European affairs spokesman, Neale Richmond TD, described the comments as “pointless threats”.
In the North, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed Ms Truss’s pledge while SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said her remarks would “only make things worse”.
Ms Truss, who took charge of negotiations with the EU following David Frost’s resignation last month, will host Mr Sefcovic for talks this week. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, she said her priority was to deal with what she called the protocol’s “unintended consequences” for the peace process in Northern Ireland.
“When I see Maros Sefcovic this week for our first face-to-face talks, I’ll be putting forward our constructive proposals to resolve the situation,” she said.
“The current problems are myriad and manifest. Red tape means that anyone who wants to send a parcel to Northern Ireland from Great Britain would need to fill out a customs declaration to do so – if the rules were implemented in full. Families cannot take their pets with them when travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland without costly paperwork and unnecessary veterinary treatments.”
She said Britain was proposing that goods going to the EU should go through customs formalities and those staying in the United Kingdom should not. And she said Britain should not have to notify the EU before offering targeted tax breaks to businesses in Northern Ireland to ensure they comply with state aid rules. She also restated Britain’s preference for an arbitration system separate from the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
“Our plan is a pragmatic compromise, underscored by robust enforcement, which we should all be able to embrace,” she said.
“I am prepared to work night and day to negotiate a solution. 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.
“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.”