The EU will consider all its tools if Article 16 is triggered
The EU will consider all the tools at its disposal if the UK government triggers Article 16, warned Maros Sefcovic.
The vice-president of the European Commission said that if the British government suspended the Northern Ireland protocol, it would have “serious consequences” for the region and Brussels’ relations with the United Kingdom.
Speaking to Irish politicians, the commissioner said he was concerned about the rhetoric and action of the UK government around the implementation of the deal, in particular the division protocol.
Mr Sefcovic said there had been a ‘change of tone’ in the latest round of talks with Brexit Minister Lord David Frost.
He told the special select committee that the EU was fully committed to protecting the Good Friday deal.
“However, I must say that I am concerned about the UK’s rhetoric and action regarding the implementation of the agreement and in particular the protocol,” added Mr Sefcovic.
“Last Friday I held my fourth weekly meeting with David Frost on the EU solutions package.
“I recognized and welcomed the change in tone of this discussion compared to previous ones.
“After weeks of intensified talks, we need the UK to reciprocate the big step the EU has taken.
“The EU has taken great steps to find solutions and provide solutions to the concrete problems faced by people and businesses in Northern Ireland on the ground following the UK’s chosen Brexit.”
Mr Sefcovic said he would not speculate that the UK would trigger Article 16.
“However, it is clear that if they were to do so, the EU should consider all the tools at its disposal,” he added.
“It would also have serious consequences for Northern Ireland and for our relations with the UK.”
He said talks with the UK on the Northern Ireland Protocol were ongoing.
“Judging from my experience and through all these negotiations, I am convinced that we must remain firm in our relations with the UK as we have been in recent months and years,” continued the Commissioner.
“But we also have to stay calm.”
He said the EU has demonstrated “very clearly” that it has listened to the problems related to the Protocol and is ready to resolve them.
“This is of course my preference for the future, looking for constructive solutions to ensure that through our actions we really demonstrate that we are there for the people of Northern Ireland, that we know how to solve this problem and that we can do it within the protocol, ”he added.
“Although I know that for David and his team Article 16 remains one of the options they keep on the table, but I appreciated the change in tone and I hope that will guide us in the Friday meeting. “
He said that problem solving is very important for the EU and is being dealt with at a high level.
“We get a lot of inquiries from the United States, Congress, the United States administration,” the committee was told.
“This was also the issue on the agenda when Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met with United States President Joe Biden just a few days ago. This is how high the political game is.
Sinn Fein Senator Niall O Donnghaile said triggering Article 16 would create a “huge level of uncertainty and instability” during a time of instability and uncertainty.
He added: “These types of threats and that kind of rhetoric around protocol are actually translating into street unrest lately in the city where I live in Belfast and that must be condemned.”