Brexit Article 16: Should the UK trigger protocol? Experts have their say

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When the UK began negotiating terms with the European Union (EU) for life outside of the bloc, one of the deals agreed was in relation to a special Brexit deal for Northern Ireland. Known as the Northern Ireland protocol, the arrangement leaves Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods. However, since it was agreed, the Government has sought to renegotiate terms of the deal, and at points have intimated that it may trigger Article 16. But, what exactly is this facet of the protocol?

What is Article 16?

In October 2019, the UK and EU agreed to the creation of the Northern Ireland protocol.

The deal removed the threat of a hard border by allowing goods to flow freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

However, the arrangement has also resulted in what’s been labelled as an ‘Irish Sea border’.

This is due to goods which arrive into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK now being subjected to more stringent checks and controls.

Should either the UK or EU feel that the protocol is leading to significant issues or hampering their capacity to trade, then they have the option of activating Article 16.

The component sets out the process for taking unilateral “safeguard” measures, which in reality would amount to suspending parts of the deal.

Specifically, Article 16 says safeguard measures can be taken if the protocol is leading to serious “economic, societal or environmental difficulties” that are liable to persist.

Should Article 16 now be triggered?

Dr Victoria Honeyman is an Associate Professor of British Politics at the University of Leeds.

Speaking to Express.co.uk she believed triggering Article 16 would “destroy what little good will there is between the UK and the EU”.

She said: “The problem isn’t the protocol. The problem is that there is no simple solution to the larger Northern Ireland issue and its associated problems.

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“The Good Friday Agreement was a workable solution, one which has changed Northern Ireland and allowed many to live in peace.

“The Johnson Government either did not understand or they did not care about ripping up that agreement, and triggering Article 16 will not fundamentally change that.”

Dr Honeyman suggested that the way forward is “to engage in realistic negotiations, based not on slogans but on finding a workable solution”.

Likewise, Professor Kevin Featherstone from the London School of Economics and Political Science, concurred that activating Article 16 would not be a wise decision at present.

Professor Featherstone believes now is not the time “to stoke the fires of protest on the streets of Northern Ireland”.

The academic added that as “more time passes” the clearer it is becoming that Theresa May’s Brexit plan – which she spent more than two years negotiating – would have been the “better choice” to move forward with.

He said: “It would have avoided the current problems in Northern Ireland and it would have removed the long traffic queues at Dover.”

Meanwhile, the UK Government has said since last summer that the conditions needed for Article 16 to be triggered have been met.

Unionists in Northern Ireland have strongly opposed the protocol since it was agreed and have pushed for the Government to change the current rules.

Last September, the leaders of the country’s four biggest unionist parties released a joint declaration reaffirming their position that “the protocol must be rejected and replaced by arrangements which fully respect Northern Ireland’s position as a constituent and integral part of the United Kingdom”.

Nonetheless, the closest that either side has come to triggering Article 16 was the EU in January 2021.

At this point the bloc wanted supplies of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to be sent to Europe to make up for a shortfall in it’s own supply.

The EU later backed down from this stance admitting it had been an “oversight” on the bloc’s part.

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