Brussels 'draws up retaliation package' if UK suspends NI protocol

Brussels 'draws up retaliation package' if UK suspends NI protocol

11/09/2021

Brussels ‘draws up retaliation package’ if UK suspends Northern Ireland protocol with threats to ban fishing fleets from EU waters and even scrap post-Brexit trade deal entirely

The EU is drawing up a retaliation package in a bid to stop Boris Johnson making good on threats to suspend the Northern Ireland protocol, it was claimed today.

Brussels insiders say the bloc is preparing measures that could be implemented quickly, intending to present them in talks with the UK to gain ‘leverage’. 

The proposals being circulated include blocking British fishing vessels from EU waters, and suspending ‘preferential’ tariffs on goods. 

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney turned up the heat at the weekend by warning that the entire post-Brexit trade deal could be ‘set aside’ if the UK triggers Article 16 to prevent checks between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.

However, that process would potentially take a long time and Brussels is looking at ways of inflicting reprisals more quickly.  

Mujtaba Rahman, a former EU commission and Treasury aide who now advises on geopolitical risk, said one senior official had told him: ‘In order to avoid escalation, you have to demonstrate escalation dominance.’ 


A meeting between Lord Frost (right) and the EU’s Maros Sefcovic (left) failed to break the impasse last week. The pair are due to hold more talks in London on Friday

An anti-protocol sign on a lamppost in the Rathcoole housing estate of Newtownabbey, County Antrim

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, deputy first minister at Stormont, urged the UK to ‘dial down the rhetoric’ after a virtual meeting with Lord Frost today

The options could apparently be laid out to Lord Frost by Maros Sefcovic when the pair meet on Friday.

‘To dissuade UKG from triggering Article 16, EU is drawing up a package of short/medium term retaliatory measures which cd be put to @DavidGHFrost by @MarosSefcovic on Fri,’ Mr Rahman said.

The threats would include ‘short-term tariff retaliation before arbitration proceedings’.

Mr Rahman said Mr Sefcovid was originally convinced being more flexible would work, but was now ‘advocating a much tougher approach’ and had backing from commission president Ursula von der Leyen. 

Downing Street revealed today that Lord Frost has spoken to the French Europe minister Clement Beaune.

A No 10 spokesman said the conversation covered the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and post-Brexit fishing rights.

The two men are expected to speak again later this week, the spokesman added.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, deputy first minister at Stormont, urged the UK to ‘dial down the rhetoric’ after a virtual meeting with Lord Frost today.

Two buses have been hijacked and burned out in loyalist areas in Northern Ireland this month in incidents linked to protocol opposition.

Police were also attacked in clashes at a community interface in west Belfast involving youths from the nationalist Springfield Road and loyalist Shankill Road/Lanark Way on two nights last week.

Ms O’Neill said Lord Frost did not confirm to her that the Government would definitely suspend the protocol, by triggering Article 16 of the mechanism.

However, she linked the Government’s repeated threats to trigger a suspension as a factor in heightening tensions that have seen the outbreaks of disorder.

‘I’ve made it very clear to him that it’s time to dial down the rhetoric, that the wider community here want solutions, they want to make the protocol work, they want us to iron out the issues that need to be resolved but they certainly don’t want to see the spill out of the language, the incendiary language actually from the British Government and the DUP, that’s now spilling out on to our streets and we now see street disorder – none of us want that,’ said Ms O’Neill.

Mr Coveney said on Sunday that there will be ‘very serious’ consequences if the Article 16 mechanism is triggered.

Although he stressed Brussels could go a ‘little further’ to ease the implementation of the rules, Mr Coveney said the trade agreement was ‘contingent’ on the divorce terms being honoured. 

A meeting between Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic failed to break the impasse last week. 

The bloc says it has already ‘bent over backwards’ to make concessions on the implementation of the protocol, which was part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

However, key disagreements remain, including over the role of the European Court of Justice in any disputes. The new arrangements have been blamed for fuelling sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland as loyalists demand it is scrapped altogether.  

Mr Coveney insisted the EU was in ‘solutions mode’ and wanted to do whatever it could to streamline checks required on goods moving from the British mainland to Northern Ireland.

However, he told RTE Radio there was a limit to the EU’s flexibility and criticised the UK’s hard line, after Lord Frost insisted suspending the protocol is still ‘on the table’. 

He complained that Britain was asking for a lot while offering nothing in return.

Mujtaba Rahman, a former EU commission and Treasury aide who now advises on geopolitical risk, said one senior official had told him: ‘In order to avoid escalation, you have to demonstrate escalation dominance.’

Protests in Belfast last week, amid fears the protocol is fuelling sectarian tensions

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