By James Ward, PA
The Government held high level discussions this week with the Biden administration over UK plans to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.
UK Brexit Minister Lord David Frost appeared to row back on a threat to trigger the clause in the Brexit deal on Wednesday, which would effectively suspend elements of the arrangements that prevent a hard border in Ireland.
He said it was “not inevitable” that the British government would invoke the clause, but warned it would be the UK’s only option if the dispute was not resolved.
Mr Coveney said contact with the US government on the issue was designed to “encourage progress” in negotiations between Lord Frost and his EU counterpart, European Commission vice-President Maros Sefcovic.
“I’ve been speaking to the Biden administration directly” Mr Coveney told the Dáil on Thursday.
“I got a chance to speak to one of his most senior advisors this week, and also speaking to members of Congress in Cop, Brendan Boyle and others.
“But I think the main focus here is to try to encourage progress in the vice-President Sefcovic/Lord Frost discussions.”
He said he had been encouraged by Lord Frost’s statement that the UK could be convinced not to take the “negative retrograde” step of triggering Article 16.
He said: “Listening to what he had to say yesterday in the House of Lords, I think there is still some time to try to ensure that negotiations and partnership can work.
“We will continue to focus on those efforts, to do everything we can to dissuade the British Government from triggering Article 16, which I believe would be a really serious negative and retrograde step.”
Lord Frost is to meet with Mr Sefcovic on Friday for further talks.
Mr Coveney said he will meet with the vice president on Tuesday, and is hoping to hold “direct discussions” with Lord Frost at some stage next week.
The EU has made clear that the trade deal struck with the UK post-Brexit was dependent on the implementation of the protocol.
A move to suspend it could see the EU scrap the agreement, which could result in a trade war between the bloc and the UK.
The Irish Government has begun reactivating no-deal contingency planning in preparation for a potential unravelling of the Brexit deal.
Talks between London and Brussels over the contentious protocol remain deadlocked and there is growing speculation that the UK is poised to trigger Article 16 in the coming weeks.
— Neale Richmond (@nealerichmond) November 11, 2021
The UK government has set a December deadline for a resolution in talks on the protocol.
The arrangement effectively keeps the North inside the EU’s single market for goods, resulting in some checks for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.
But UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Lord Frost have argued the EU’s interpretation of the deal has led to difficulties.
The EU has presented a package it believes will eliminate the need for 80 per cent of checks, but the UK has insisted the oversight role of the European Court of Justice is removed, a move Brussels firmly rejects.