Brexit: David Davis warns of 'three more years' of negotiations
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Late last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reported to be on the verge of triggering Article 16 and overhauling the post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland but was persuaded otherwise by his Brexit minister Lord Frost. But the warning to deploy the so-called “nuclear option” was rumoured to have still been issued to Ireland, with UK officials understood to have made clear it is Mr Johnson – and not Lord Frost – who is in fact most in favour of triggering Article 16.
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.
Now Mr Johnson has been urged to make the aggressive move as it would send a clear signal to Brussels the UK is now willing to “play hardball” over the Protocol but that ultimately must be sent by scrapping the mechanism completely.
But the Prime Minister has been warned he must spring into action and get on the front foot with the EU or risk the UK facing a devastating outcome.
Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the Bow Group think tank, told Express.co.uk: “The UK must be extremely tough in its negotiating stance, as failure to do so risks either removing trade and regulatory advantage from Brexit, or breaking up the United Kingdom.
“There is simply no point in trying to kick the can down the road in the foolish hope the situation will somehow resolve itself.
“If decisive action isn’t taken the EU will have effective control of Northern Irish trade into the future.
“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.”
Mr Harris-Quinney claimed are only four realistic outcomes to resolve the issues on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – all of which at present appear “unworkable if not impossible”.
He explained what he believes is now the best option for the UK going forward but warned making the wrong choice could plunge the country into complete alignment with the UK – eight months after Brexit.
The political expert added: “The cold hard truth is that there are only four realistic outcomes: a customs border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, a border between Northern Ireland and the UK, a border between the island of Ireland and the EU, or the UK as a whole moving into regulatory alignment with the EU.
“All of these options seem unworkable if not impossible, yet ultimately the status quo must settle on one of them.
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“It is the job of the British government to use all means at our disposal to ensure the settlement is one that is best for Britain.
“The best option for the United Kingdom would be for the UK and Ireland to negotiate a bespoke adaptation of Article 349 or GATT 24, creating a special economic zone for the island of Ireland.
“The worst option would be that an effective border continues down the Irish sea, or that we fall into regulatory alignment with the EU entirely.”
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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