A senior British minister said on Friday that he was confident London could break an impasse with the EU over post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland without having to trigger emergency measures to safeguard the movement of goods.
Britain and the EU agreed to intensify efforts to resolve Northern Ireland trade issues this week after Brussels cautiously welcomed a change in tone from London following weeks of deteriorating relations.
Britain had earlier threatened to trigger the emergency clause in the Brexit deal, known as Article 16, potentially leading to a trade war.
“I do believe that there is a constructive approach that has been taken by the (European) Commission,” Housing Minister Michael Gove, who was in charge of implementing Britain’s EU divorce deal until earlier this year, told a news conference.
“(Brexit minister) Lord Frost has signalled that, while of course, it’s always possible that Article 16 may require to be invoked, we’re confident we’ll be able to make progress without it.”
Speaking ahead of a meeting with his European counterpart in Brussels on Friday, Frost said there remained significant differences between both sides’ positions and that triggering Article 16 was still “on the table”.
Article 16 is an emergency brake that allows either side to seek to suspend parts of the agreement that introduced some checks on the movement of goods to Northern Ireland from mainland Britain if they lead to persistent difficulties.
Speaking after meeting Gove at the British-Irish Council, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said he detected a genuine desire from all sides to solve the issues.
Since leaving the EU last year Britain has delayed the introduction of some border checks that were designed to avoid the need for a hard frontier between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
London says the checks are disproportionate and threaten Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace deal. The EU says tight controls are needed to protect its single market.