A Cabinet minister today plunged the UK’s negotiating strategy on the Northern Ireland border row with the EU into chaos after she ruled out unilaterally suspending customs checks before Christmas.
Her comments appeared to undermine Brexit Minister Lord Frost who has repeatedly insisted that the UK could make the move at any point if the EU refuses to give ground during crunch talks.
Ms Trevelyan’s claim was swiftly slapped down by Downing Street as the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman insisted there is no ‘timetable’ for the potential triggering of Article 16.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, claimed the UK will ‘absolutely not’ act on its own to tear up border rules in Northern Ireland before the end of the year
Her comments appeared to undermine Brexit Minister Lord Frost who has repeatedly insisted that the UK could make the move at any point if the EU refuses to give ground during crunch talks
The UK and the EU remain locked in talks on how to improve the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol, agreed as part of the original Brexit deal, requires checks on goods to be carried out at ports in order to avoid the return of a land border with the Republic.
But it has caused disruption to trade and angered unionists who have demanded the rules be scrapped, arguing they create a barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Britain and Brussels have been holding negotiations for months on how to improve the operation of the protocol but a breakthrough remains elusive.
The Government has repeatedly threatened to trigger Article 16 of the protocol to unilaterally suspend the border arrangements if the EU refuses to budge.
Such a move would almost certainly trigger a legal challenge from Brussels and could spark a potential trade war.
Lord Frost has said the UK’s preference is to strike a deal with the EU to improve the protocol but ‘Article 16 remains on the table’.
However, Ms Trevelyan appeared to pull the rug out from underneath Lord Frost as she told The Telegraph: ‘I don’t think anyone’s calling Article 16 before Christmas, absolutely not.’
Downing Street rejected the suggestion made by Ms Trevelyan, as the PM’s Official Spokesman said: ‘Our preference remains to agree a negotiated solution if we can. Of course we will use Article 16, the safety mechanism, if solutions cannot be found.’
Asked directly if the Government is willing to trigger Article 16 before Christmas, the spokesman replied: ‘Well, I am not going to put a timetable on it.
‘We continue to believe that the conditions for triggering that safety mechanism of Article 16 have been met.
‘That remains the Government position. But we will look for a consensual, negotiated solution.’
The row came as Ms Trevelyan used a speech at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Trade at lunchtime to insist the UK can now ‘write a new chapter in our proud trading history’ following Brexit.
Speaking at the event hosted by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank, she said: ‘For the first time in almost 50 years, we are no longer waiting on the EU’s “computer says no” bureaucracy, where trade talks drag on and on.
‘We are an independent trading nation, able to reach out on our own, securing great deals and empowering businesses to seize those opportunities of the future and create high-paying, highly-skilled jobs, and to forge an open, enterprising economy which enables us to build back better from the pandemic, levelling up the whole of the UK.
‘With the energy, the innovation and the engagement of businesses, communities and this ambitious strategy, we will unleash our nation’s brilliant potential and write a new chapter in our proud trading history.’
Source: Daily Mail UK