Business chiefs warn against suspending Northern Ireland protocol

Lord Frost told triggering article 16 would add to legal uncertainty for traders and damage economy

Business leaders have warned Lord Frost that triggering article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol would be a “lose-lose” move.

As Frost prepares to reiterate his threat to suspend the protocol using article 16 in two appearances at next week’s Conservative party conference, businesses in Northern Ireland have said such a step would add to the legal uncertainty for traders and damage the economy.

A group of trade representatives met Frost at a face-to-face meeting last week in Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland.

Those at the meeting said Frost made it clear that triggering article 16 was under consideration but that he would not be dumping the protocol completely. “He was very, very keen to stress that there was a still a need for an international treaty,” said one at the meeting.

They said that triggering article 16 would have a chilling effect on trade in and out of Northern Ireland.

“It will not persuade a single person who is not supplying NI already to do so; that those who are already trading with NI may stop supplying NI because they might find themselves in legal jeopardy as boardrooms will want to comply with the law; and thirdly, EU customers who are buying from Northern Ireland may decide not to do so because they will consider it too much of a hassle in the legal uncertainty,” said one business leader at the meeting.

Their warning comes days after the Democratic Unionist party entered an alliance with three rival parties to fight for substantial changes to the protocol, which has meant fresh red tape for businesses in Great Britain selling into Northern Ireland.

They warned of the “grave damage” it was inflicting on the local economy and plan to ratchet up that message at a lunchtime event on Monday at the Tory conference in Manchester.

Some sources surmise that triggering article 16 would be a political masterstroke, giving the DUP, which has threatened to quit Stormont, the chance to declare victory over the EU and calm unionist anxieties.

Business leaders in Britain in regular meetings with Cabinet Office and Downing Street representatives question whether the government has the political stomach to trigger article 16 when it will merely result in a souring of relations with the EU and end up with both sides having to re-enter talks, albeit on a more formal basis.

The EU is planning to unveil fresh proposals on the protocol in the week after conference.

One business leader said: “This stuff about article 16 is all about the messaging. They want to get it across to the EU that they are serious about article 16. The one thing they fear most is that the EU is going to come back with ‘take it or leave it’ proposals and they want a serious negotiation.”

But others dismiss this. “The UK has been a member the EU and knows how it works, knows that they have to come up with proposals and get approval from member states. The EU will not present a fait accompli and Lord Frost knows that,” said the political insider.

The EU’s Brexit commissioner, Maroš Šefčovič, told senior MEPs on Wednesday he would be ready to present a package of proposals to the UK in “10 days”. It is understood that while the UK government is still demanding a comprehensive renegotiation of the protocol, they will not dismiss the ideas out of hand when Šefčovič comes forward.

The two sides have been in close contact and Whitehall believes Brussels has been more engaged since it published its command paper in July setting out the UK position.

Both sides regard the end of the year as the deadline for finding a compromise. But neither side is confident of avoiding a fresh crisis in relations.

EU sources said they believed the triggering of article 16 was a matter of “when, not if”.

A public row is expected by sources in Brussels to break at the end of November, once the Cop26 event in Glasgow has finished. “There is zero appetite to change the mandate and renegotiate and then go through ratification of a new protocol,” said one EU diplomat.


Lisa O'Carroll and Daniel Boffey

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Belfast court dismisses legal challenge to Brexit Northern Ireland protocol
Ruling is boost to UK and EU negotiators, who are expected to announce new arrangements

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

30, Jun, 2021 @10:36 AM

Article image
Brexit: Northern Ireland protocol talks stuck in deadlock
Both sides say serious gaps remain but negotiations will resume next week

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

29, Oct, 2021 @3:41 PM

Article image
UK government threatens to suspend Northern Ireland protocol
Brexit minister David Frost tells House of Lords that the European Commission must take renegotiation proposals seriously

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

13, Sep, 2021 @6:03 PM

Article image
What next for the Northern Ireland protocol?
What is the proposed EU solution – and will it please David Frost?

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

12, Oct, 2021 @6:43 PM

Article image
Why is UK publishing a ‘command paper’ on Northern Ireland protocol?
Trading arrangements continue to be a significant flashpoint in relations with Dublin and Brussels

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

21, Jul, 2021 @3:43 PM

Article image
EU welcomes ‘change in tone’ from UK at Northern Ireland Brexit talks
Brussels Brexit chief offers glimmer of hope, but London says threat of article 16 still on the table

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

12, Nov, 2021 @5:05 PM

Article image
Dominic Cummings says UK always intended to ditch NI protocol
Ex-adviser to PM says flawed Brexit deal was way to ‘whack Corbyn’ and ‘of course’ government can break it

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

13, Oct, 2021 @1:55 PM

Article image
Brexit: no checks on supermarket supplies to Northern Ireland
Grace period for supermarkets will last three months while full checks on chilled meats will not kick in for six months

Lisa O'Carroll and Daniel Boffey

09, Dec, 2020 @4:20 PM

Article image
Joe Biden supports EU position on Northern Ireland, says Von der Leyen
Brussels chief says US president agrees Britain should not ditch post-Brexit protocol

Daniel Boffey in Brussels and Peter Walker

10, Nov, 2021 @8:20 PM

Article image
Britain warns EU that Northern Ireland protocol unsustainable
Brexit minister says UK would ‘consider all our options’ after meeting with business leaders

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

11, May, 2021 @6:53 PM