When will the Tories realise that the EU is waiting for the UK to actually use Article 16 of the trade agreement? After all, the government has been threatening to do so almost from the moment it signed the treaty in the first place. And now, the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has circled back around to this tactic, just before a key meeting, where such a move could collapse the entire deal. I think the EU ambassador to the UK said it best. “We’ve seen this from the government before so we are not surprised. We are not too impressed”.
Well, I am impressed. I’m impressed at the apparent willingness of this government to break probably the most important treaty in this country since the Good Friday Agreement. And it’s one that greatly affects the same part of the UK. Now, Northern Ireland is a tricky field to navigate. It has been for a very long time and will continue to be for a very long time. And to get a deal over the line before the grace period expired, Johnson’s government and negotiators agreed that Northern Ireland would in effect remain in the single market, which necessitated new border checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. They agreed to this to prevent the reintroduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Because we have seen that. And it’s not good. Seeing the British military back at checkpoints would spell real problems for the region. So that had to come into consideration when negotiating the post-Brexit trade deal. However, the very option that ended up in Johnson’s trade deal with the EU was the exact same one that had been in Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. The one that Johnson voted against. And seemingly no sooner had the agreement been signed into law, passed by Parliament than Johnson and his cohorts were publicly saying they would break it. Which meant they would be breaking the law. At first, it was merely in a ‘limited and specific way’. As if that suddenly made what they were planning to do completely legal rather than totally illegal. For months after the deal was completed, the lead negotiator for Britain, David Frost was constantly disparaging the agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol in particular. Which simply raised the question of whether he was unaware of what he was actually signing up to in which case, he was incompetent. Or if the government knew they were going to break the protocol at some point. In which case, they lied to the British public, their opposite numbers in the EU and all the people living in continental Europe.
Either way, triggering the Article 16 ‘safeguard measures’ has been threatened before and then not been done. But do you really think the EU hasn’t put some thought into what they might need to do if Britain triggers Article 16? They will have been thinking about what to do to protect the Single Market since that threat was first made. As far as they are concerned Britain’s triggering of the safeguard measures isn’t justified and could lead to the collapse of the entire trade agreement. Of course, it would be better for everyone involved to have an agreement reached on a new structure for the process, one that would satisfy all sides. The EU would be happy that goods entering the Single Market would be in line with all the EU regulations, while the time taken to do those checks and paperwork might be decreased. But I don’t see that happening. This is going to rumble on for a while.