Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021

Again the EU caves to Frost on Brexit… so will triggering A16 force a full capitulation?

Brexit: Sefcovic outlines reform plans for NI protocol

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When the Brexit minister outlined his proposals for a renegotiation of the treaty in July, it took the Commission less than two hours to publicly condemn the plans. But don’t let that fool you, the EU’s new proposals for Protocol presented today represent a major climbdown by the bloc.

The Commission plans to eradicate most customs checks for goods crossing the Irish Sea if they are set to remain in Northern Ireland. It means chilled meats such as British bangers can continue to be enjoyed by those in the province.

As recently as June Brussels was adamant that would not be possible. They said a ban on their sale in Northern Ireland was inevitable in order to protect the EU’s single market.

The bloc may hate it, but once again Lord Frost’s threat to go for the nuclear option has worked.

In 2019 when Boris Johnson made clear the Northern Ireland backstop needed to be renegotiated or he would walk away with no deal, Brussels caved. They again gave key concessions in trade talks last year when a similar strategy was deployed.

Now, the threat of triggering Article 16 to suspend aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol has yielded results.

The EU’s proposals may not have gone far enough for the UK’s liking, but it’s a considerable shift in position.

The question now for Lord Frost is: will going ahead with his threat to trigger Article 16 lead to the EU giving up even more ground?

The minister has repeatedly said he is reluctant to go down such a route but is not afraid to do so if the bloc does not take his demands seriously.

Politically the decision would make sense. Boris Johnson has seen his popularity wane in recent weeks due to the hike in national insurance, energy crisis, and fears of shortages in supermarkets at Christmas.

The Prime Minister standing up to the EU would likely rally support and give Mr Johnson a boost.

Critics fear using the ultimatum would undermine the UK’s reputation on the world stage.

They repeatedly point to the fact US President Joe Biden has said he will not sign a trade deal with the UK if the Northern Ireland Peace Process is undermined by Britain’s actions.

But with Washington having made it clear they are in no rush to start trade talks with London, are President Biden’s words any more than an empty threat?

There’s no doubt triggering Article 16 is a risky move, but given the EU’s previous record on folding at the last moment, it might be an option too irresistible to ignore.

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