Politics

Do it now, Boris! PM urged to deploy ‘nuclear option’ as Brexit row with EU explodes

Brexit: EU more interested in 'control' than money says McBride

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Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reportedly close to enforcing Article 16 against the European Union and overhauling parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, but was talked out of it at the 11th hour by his Brexit minister Lord Frost. But the warning to deploy the so-called “nucellar option” was rumoured to have still been issued to Ireland, according to The Telegraph, with UK officials understood to have made clear it is Mr Johnson who is in fact most in favour of triggering Article 16. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis is also understood to have relayed similar messages to Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney during recent talks over post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland.

The enforcement of Article 16 could spark another huge rift with the European Union as it is the mechanism by which either side is able to suspend parts of the Protocol if they believe it is causing huge economic or societal damage to the region.

Lord Frost has already told peers in the House of Lords the UK believes the conditions for triggering Article 16 but stopped short of saying the UK could enforce it, instead preferring for the Protocol to be renegotiated.

However, Ben Harris-Quinney, Chairman of the right-win Bow Group think tank, said although he believes the Protocol should be scrapped altogether as it is “clearly unworkable”, triggering Article 16 could ramp up the urgent necessity for a renegotiation of the trade mechanism.

He also argued enforcing Article 16 would send a strong message to the EU that Britain is “willing to play hardball” in negotiations.

Mr Harris-Quinney told Express.co.uk: “The Bow Group believes ultimately the protocol needs to be scrapped entirely.

“We raised this concern in December as soon as the deal was announced as it was clearly unworkable, as the Government has now realised.

“Delaying it is delaying the inevitable and prolonging confusion.

“However, triggering Article 16 does create a new playing field and signals to all parties the urgent necessity for a renegotiation, so it may move us further towards scrapping the protocol as a whole, and renegotiating the entire deal.

“By invoking Article 16 the UK Government would begin to send a formal signal that they are willing to play hardball, but ultimately that signal must be sent by scrapping the protocol altogether.

“Decisions will have to be made that will be extremely controversial, but if they are not it will mean capitulation to the EU, severe damage to the Brexit project, and severe damage to the Union.”

But another political expert has urged Mr Johnson not to trigger Article 16 against the EU as a means of trying to resolve issues surrounding the implementation of the Protocol.

Wyn Grant, a political scientist and professor of politics at the University of Warwick, warned doing so would spark a furious retaliation from Brussels that will likely lead to a bitter trade war with the UK.

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He told this website: “The Prime Minister may feel that he has no alternative to triggering Article 16 to provoke a resolution of the situation.

“However, this would almost certainly lead to retaliation from the EU in terms of trade.

“It is very likely that the EU would impose tariffs on selected British exports.

“The alternative is to accept the EU’s food and hygiene rules, but that would clash with the whole idea of taking back control.”

Last month, Lord Frost unveiled a number of proposals he hopes will ease problems caused by the Protocol.

They included being more lenient in its enforcement of customs checks, scrapping requirements for Northern Ireland goods to meet EU laws if they comply with British legislation, and agreeing to remove the European Court of Justice as the arbitrator of the Protocol.

While Lord Frost warned the UK believes the conditions for triggering Article 16 had now been met and the Protocol in its current form is no longer a viable solution, he instead called for the mechanism to be rewritten.

But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned: “The EU will continue to be creative and flexible within the Protocol framework. But we will not renegotiate.”

Just a couple of days later, the Commission appeared to change its tone slightly on the matter.

A spokeswoman said: “The Commission will carefully assess the new proposals made by the UK, in accordance with the necessary consultation procedures, both internally, and with the European Parliament.”

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