EU States Back 'NATO' Style Response if UK Uses Trade Deal Remedy Mechanism
16:27 GMT 19.05.2022 (Updated: 15:19 GMT 28.05.2023)
The UK has argued that the EU-imposed customs border between Britain and Northern Ireland and its ban on British sausages and potted plants is a serious enough barrier to free trade to justify measures under Article 16 of the Brexit deal.
European Union (EU) members have backed plans by the bloc's leadership to tear up its trade deal with the UK if Britain uses a clause in the agreement to end customs checks in Northern Ireland.
The British government revealed its plans
on Wednesday to use Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to end Brussels
-imposed customs checks on internal goods movements with the British mainland.
Maros Sefkovic, deputy president of the European Commission — the EU's unelected executive — met with ambassadors from the 27 member states on Wednesday evening to discuss their response.
reported that they backed the commission's plan to retaliate if the UK takes action, including by tearing up the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and slapping import tariffs on UK goods for the first time in decades.
Ironically, such a move would likely mean imposing a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in potential breach of the 1999 Good Friday peace accord, precisely the outcome which the protocol was meant to avoid.
One official told Bloomberg that the German representative at the meeting called for a "flexible response" based on the NATO alliance's doctrines of "proportional" military escalation.
Poland and "several" other states reportedly vented their "annoyance" with the timing of Britain's moves when they wanted to present a front of "solidarity" with Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
Adding to the bellicose rhetoric, one EU source even told Politico that British use of Article 16 would be like "pressing the nuclear button".
Article 16 of the protocol, part of the 2020 EU Withdrawal Agreement brokered between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, allows either side to take measures to remedy disruptions to trade or social stability arising from the deal.
But it also commits both parties to seek a mutually-agreeable solution in talks for up to a month beforehand, then meet every three months afterwards to "review" the measures with the aim of returning to the status quo ante.
Downing Street argues that the EU's imposition of a customs border down the Irish Sea and its ban on British goods such as sausages and potted plants is affecting normal trade, while protests against the restrictions by the unionist community are causing social unrest.
Von der Leyen said on Thursday she had a "good conversation" with Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin, and the two were in agreement on the protocol.
"The EU and Ireland are on the same page: international agreements cannot be disapplied unilaterally", the UVDL tweeted. "The UK needs to work with us to find joint, workable solutions".
But the EU refused to discuss the UK's problems with the protocol for six months before Wednesday's announcement.