The prospect of a trade war between the UK and the EU has edged closer, with Ireland giving the clearest hint yet that Brussels plans to suspend the entire trade deal struck last December if the British government suspends the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol.
The Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, accused the UK of “deliberately forcing a breakdown” in negotiations over Northern Ireland, adding that there was still time to step back from the brink.
“The trade and cooperation agreement that was agreed between the British government and the EU was contingent on the implementation of the withdrawal agreement, which includes the protocol.
“One is contingent on the other, and so if one has been set aside, there is a danger that the other will also be set aside by the EU,” he told RTE on Sunday.
His comments confirm speculation that the EU will not dwell on its options if the UK triggers article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, but will instead deploy measures in the wider Brexit withdrawal agreement that allow cross-retaliation.
The EU would have to serve the UK with 12 months’ notice, but it would have a devastating impact on British business, industry leaders warned. Shane Brennan, head of the Cold Chain Federation, said businesses would be “sacrificed” with “a near prohibition on UK food exports”.
Coveney’s comments come amid heightened expectation that article 16 will be triggered by the UK after the Cop26 climate crisis summit in Glasgow ends on Friday.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that the UK has begun work on a post-article-16 scenario, with plans to pull funds from the Horizon Europe research programme and go it alone with alternatives.
Coveney said there was still time for the UK to pull back from the brink, but that the EU felt that every time it offered an olive branch to the UK, the response of the British was to harden its position and “constantly raise new problems”. “You have to ask yourself the question, ‘Why are they doing that if they’re acting in good faith?’”
Ireland’s European commissioner, Mairead McGuinness, said on Sunday that suspending the trade deal would be “very severe and something the EU would want to prevent”. However, she said patience with the UK was wearing thin.
Source: The Guardian