8 Nov 2021

Brexit: UK-EU trade deal could collapse over Northern Ireland row

2:22 pm on 8 November 2021

The UK's trade deal with the EU could collapse in a row over Northern Ireland, says a senior Irish minister.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has hinted the EU could terminate its trade deal with the UK if the latter triggers Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Photo: AFP or licensors

The UK is thought to be preparing to suspend parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney hinted the EU could terminate the Trade and Cooperation Agreement in response.

He said: "One is contingent on the other so that if one is being set aside there is a danger that the other will also be set aside by the EU."

Northern Ireland is covered by a special Brexit deal known as the Protocol.

It keeps Northern Ireland in the EU's single market for goods, which prevents a hard border with Ireland and allows free-flowing trade with the EU.

But it also creates a trade border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is causing difficulties for some businesses.

Article 16 of the Protocol allows parts of the deal to be suspended if it is causing serious problems - the UK says that threshold has been reached.

The EU has proposed operational changes to the Protocol but the UK is demanding more far-reaching changes.

Coveney said that if the UK did suspend parts of the Northern Ireland deal it would be "deliberately forcing a breakdown in relationships and negotiation between the two sides".

He linked that to the wider UK-EU deal, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

Either side can give 12 months notice that they intend to terminate the TCA.

On Sunday Coveney said the "messages" that he was getting from political parties in Northern Ireland, the European Commission and others was that London was preparing to trigger Article 16 after the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

He told Irish national broadcaster RTÉ that such a move would be a "significant act that would damage relationships between Britain and Ireland".

"I think all the evidence now suggests that the British government are laying the foundations to trigger Article 16," Coveney said.

"That is a worry - I think we need not to be naïve in terms of what's happening."

The minister said the UK was deliberately asking for "what they can't get".

Earlier, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said suspending parts of Northern Ireland's Brexit deal would not resolve the dispute between the UK and EU.

The Labour leader told BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show he wanted to see "both sides sitting down and resolving this".

"There's a little bit of me, I am afraid, that can't help think that the prime minister is constantly trying to pick a fight on things like this so he hopes people don't look elsewhere in the forest, which are things like the Owen Paterson affair," Sir Keir said.

Asked if he would be prepared to renegotiate the Brexit deal to mitigate any impact on economic growth, Sir Keir said he would not rip up the deal but there were "sensible adjustments" that could be made to improve the arrangement.

"I think we need to make Brexit work ... in order to do that, we have got to deal with some of the gaps and weaknesses in the current arrangements."

The Labour leader said he would do "whatever I could to make it easier for British firms to trade across the world, but particularly with the EU".

"What I'm not talking about is re-joining the EU, what I'm not talking about is ripping up the current agreement and starting again - nobody wants to be in that place."

Former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major said on Saturday that triggering Article 16 and suspending parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol would be "colossally stupid".

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has warned the UK government that suspending parts of the protocol could endanger the wider Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU.

On the prospect of the UK triggering Article 16, McDonald said: "It would demonstrate just again colossal bad faith and demonstrate again that Ireland, the north of Ireland in particular, is collateral damage in the Tory Brexit as they play games and play a game of chicken with the European institutions."


Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs