Lord Frost discusses the deadline for invoking Article 16
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It comes as Mr Johnson is said to preparing to trigger Article 16 of the EU withdrawal agreement over issues with the Protocol. According to Sky News’ Sam Coates, Downing Street is aware that negotiations over revising the problematic Protocol cannot go on forever, and are putting a “few weeks” timescale on talks.
However, he added that EU officials are “pessimistic” about progress and fear talks are “heading into a ditch”.
It is believed the Government could trigger Article 16 as early as next month, following the conclusion of the COP26 summit.
In the event it is triggered, the EU may refuse to negotiate, and instead only commit to infraction proceedings – where it is evaluated whether EU law has been properly implemented.
Article 16 allows either side to unilaterally suspend parts of the agreement if the deal has caused undue harm to trade.
UK officials have repeatedly warned they will trigger the instrument due to the issues with the Northern Ireland border.
The Prime Minister has said “all the conditions have been met” to trigger Article 16.
The Protocol – intended to allow access to the EU’s single market via Northern Ireland – has caused issues and border delays as goods have to be checked when they move across the Irish Sea.
Mr Johnson has already assembled a committee to discuss the consequences of triggering Article 16 of the withdrawal agreement.
Brexit Secretary Lord David Frost has already begun communicating with Tory MPs to brief them on the situation and gather their support in the event the Government does trigger Article 16.
One MP said Lord Frost was sure that the Government was confident in how it is dealing with the EU.
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The MP said: “The message was: trust us. He was saying please keep your head down on the issue and don’t interfere, arguing they did Brexit so they know what they’re doing.
“He pointed out that the Irish are in a difficult position, as are the French and the Germans don’t have a government.”
The EU has already rejected calls for a new Protocol to be drafted.
Instead, in an attempt to appease the UK, earlier this month the European Commission suggested some reforms to the existing agreement.
They include cutting paperwork on imports via the Irish border, in exchange for more import data for surveillance.
It also said it would be willing to cut checks on food safety, including cold meats such as British sausages.
Speaking to the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee this week, Lord Frost claimed the proposal did not go far enough.
He said: “I’m not sure they would quite deliver the kind of ambitious freeing-up of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that we want to see.
“What we’re trying to test is whether they could find the basis to go further than what they have put on the table.
“That’s the kind of discussions we have been having and it has been quite constructive so far, but the gaps between us remain significant, and there is a lot of working through to go.”
The Government wants to see the end of the European Court of Justice’s oversight in Northern Ireland, to be replaced with an arbitration system when it comes to implementing EU law in Northern Ireland.
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