What is Article 16? Liz Truss threatens to override key aspect of Brexit deal

Brexit: Liz Truss can ‘finish Brexit’ says Marc Roche

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More than a year removed from when the UK officially exited its transition period with the European Union (EU) and negotiations over Britain’s future away from the bloc continue to rumble on. Over the weekend, Liz Truss said she would be “willing” to activate Article 16 to override parts of the post-Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland – but what exactly is Article 16?

What is Article 16?

In October 2019, the UK and EU agreed a special Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, commonly known as the Northern Ireland Protocol or just the protocol.

The deal keeps Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market for goods.

Consequently, this means that goods can flow freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, removing the threat of a “hard border”.

However, goods arriving into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK are not afforded the same luxuries.

Instead, they are now subject to checks and control, amounting to what has been referred to as an “Irish Sea border”.

Article 16 of the protocol sets out the process for taking unilateral “safeguard” measures if either the EU or the UK determines the deal is leading to serious practical problems or causing diversion of trade.

In short, those safeguards would result in parts of the deal being suspended.

This week Liz Truss will hold her first face-to-face talks with the EU’s Maros Sefcovic since she assumed Brexit negotiation responsibilities last December.

The Foreign Secretary was appointed Brexit minister after Lord Frost resigned, citing he could no longer support decisions made by the Government in relation to Covid restrictions.

Mr Sefcovic, who will be hosted at the Chevening country retreat in Buckinghamshire, is leading the EU as their chief negotiator on Brexit.

However, prior to this week’s meeting, Ms Truss has warned the EU she is prepared to activate Article 16 should she need to.

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What did Liz Truss say?

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, she said it is her “absolute priority” to resolve the “unintended consequences” created by the protocol to maintain peace in Northern Ireland.

She said: “When I see Maros Sefcovic this week for our first face-to-face talks, I’ll be putting forward our constructive proposals to resolve the situation.”

According to Ms Truss, the current issues are “myriad and manifest”.

She specifically made reference to issues such as bureaucracy on sending parcels between Northern Ireland and Britain and problems procuring kosher food.

She added: “I am prepared to work night and day to negotiate a solution.

“But let me be clear, I will not sign up to anything which sees the people of Northern Ireland unable to benefit from the same decisions on taxation and spending as the rest of the UK, or which still sees goods moving within our own country being subject to checks.

“My priority is to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland. I want a negotiated solution but if we have to use legitimate provisions including Article 16, I am willing to do that.”

Meanwhile, Mr Sefcovic has warned “the foundation of the entire deal” brokered between the UK and the EU would be at risk should Ms Truss opt to take this course of action.

He told the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, last week: “This is a very distracting element in the discussions. You try to achieve something together and – bam – there’s the threat of Article 16 again.

“It touches on the fundamentals of our relationship. The Northern Ireland Protocol was the most complicated part of the Brexit negotiations, and it is the foundation of the entire deal.

“Without the protocol, the whole system will collapse. We must prevent that at any cost.”

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