Brexit: UK pulls back from imminent threat to suspend Northern Ireland deal and trigger EU trade war

Amid expectation that Article 16 will be invoked, David Frost says ‘we’re certainly not at that point yet’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 10 November 2021 16:48
Brexit minister Lord Frost urges calmness in EU negotiations

The UK has pulled back from an early suspension of the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland – and a trade war with the EU – arguing further talks can still avert the crisis.

Boris Johnson has been moving closer to triggering Article 16 of the protocol, accusing the EU of failing to abide by the agreement he negotiated, amid anger over the trade barrier created in the Irish Sea.

Ireland has argued that would leave Brussels with no choice but to suspend the trade deal for the entire UK, which could result in punishing tariffs for exporters.

In a statement to the House of Lords, the Brexit minister David Frost repeated his threat – first made in July – to trigger Article 16 if necessary, despite the EU threat of what he called “massive and disproportionate retaliation”.

But he said, of his weekly talks with the European Commission: “This process of negotiations has not reached his end.

“Although we have been talking for nearly four weeks now, there remain possibilities that the talks have not yet seriously examined, including many approaches that have been suggested by the UK.

“So there is more to do and I certainly will not give up on this process unless and until it is abundantly clear that nothing more can be done. We’re certainly not at that point yet.”

He added: “Article 16 is not inevitable. I want to be clear about that.”

Lord Frost announced, for the first time, an intention to set up a UK version of the Horizon Europe science programme if necessary – with UK participation on hold, because of the wider row.

The UK opted to stay in the flagship £80bn programme, which pools talent and ideas to achieve breakthroughs, even as the skeleton trade deal meant walking away from other projects.

It agreed to pay £15bn over the six years to 2027 after leading scientists warned of a brain drain and that the UK would lose its status as a “science superpower”.

Lord Frost protested that EU had “an obligation” to admit the UK to the programme and would be “in breach” of the Brexit agreement if it shut it out.

“We would of course put together our own domestic research programme for our own scientists and investors,” the peer said, adding it was in nobody’s interest for that to happen.

Ahead of further talks on Friday, he warned the gap between the two sides remained “extremely wide” – and not just over European Court of Justice oversight of the trade deal.

He claimed EU pledges that its compromise proposals – promising a 50 per cent reduction in customs declarations and 80 per cent in animal product checks – did not stand up to scrutiny.

And, on moving medicines from Britain, he warned: “There’s clearly a risk of divergence and often not being able to deliver medicines as a country.”

Labour’s Brexit spokesperson, Jenny Chapman, called for “cooler heads” and accused the government of stoking “division” with the EU to distract from the sleaze allegations.

Meanwhile, at the White House, the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said US President Joe Biden had agreed with her that that the Protocol must be upheld.

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