Ireland has called Lord Frost’s bluff on invoking a Northern Ireland-specific protection clause in the Brexit deal.
Simon Coveney, Dublin’s Foreign Affairs Minister, has stated that he does not anticipate the UK government invoking Article 16 anytime soon.
On Wednesday, Mr Coveney stated that he did not believe Boris Johnson’s government would pursue the “nuclear option” of triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Coveney’s remarks came as Brexit Minister Lord Frost hinted at action on Northern Ireland’s Brexit deal before Christmas, calling for “short, intensive” discussions with the EU.
Lord Frost stated that if the UK and the EU are unable to reach an agreement, the UK will contemplate utilising Article 16.
The decision would basically rip apart sections of the deal he made with the EU last December to avoid a hard border with Ireland.
Lord Frost said he would “soon be sending” new legal texts to the EU with ideas to fix the “serious political problem” at the Conservative Party convention in Manchester.
“I hope that might change over the next couple of weeks or so,” he continued.
“It does need to be resolved though, one way or another, whether it’s through negotiations or Article 16.”
Mr Coveney told RTE radio that Lord Frost had been spouting “tough talk” this week, but that he did not expect the UK government to activate Article 16.
“My understanding is that the British Government is not likely to trigger Article 16 any time soon,” he continued.
The minister stated that the UK is “committed to an intensive negotiation process for the rest of this month, with the European Commission, who are developing a new package of measures to try to ensure that we can take on board legitimate concerns that have been expressed with the implementation of the protocol.”
Lord Frost’s comments had been “very carefully” listened to both the Irish Government and the EU, according to Mr Coveney, but he believes the two sides’ conversations will continue.
“What we’re trying to do here is ensure that it is implemented in as flexible a way as possible to reduce its impact,” he explained. “I wouldn’t read too much into the tough talk at a Conservative Party conference.”
The treaty effectively retains Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, but imposes a trade barrier on goods crossing the Irish Sea from the United Kingdom as a result.
Unionists want Prime Minister Boris Johnson to rip it up, something he has so far refrained from doing while the government pushes for a renegotiation with Brussels.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson also advocated stern action on the Protocol at a Tory fringe event this week.
“We simply cannot allow this situation to continue,” he continued.
“We need to see action taken by the Government within weeks.”
“We need the Government to set up, and to take action to remove this Irish Sea border, remove the barriers to trade within the United Kingdom, and fundamentally to restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market,” says the group.
Article 16 “has its use in the short term” but stressed legislation was needed “to restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the United Kingdom.”