European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic on Friday warned of “serious consequences” if the UK sought to renegotiate the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.
Following talks with the UK’s Brexit Minister David Frost on how goods can be shipped between Northern Ireland and Britain, Sefcovic called for more sincerity from the latter side, reports Xinhua news agency.
“Until today, we have seen no move at all from the UK side,” Sefcovic said at a press conference following the meeting.
“I find this disappointing and once again I urge the UK government to engage with us sincerely.
“We hear a lot about Article 16 at the moment. Let there be no doubt that triggering Article 16 — to seek the renegotiation of the Protocol — would have serious consequences.
“Serious for Northern Ireland, as it would lead to instability and unpredictability. And serious also for EU-UK relations in general, as it would mean a rejection of EU efforts to find a consensual solution to the implementation of the protocol,” he added.
Invoking Article 16 of the Protocol would allow the UK to reconsider the lack of a border with Ireland if it believes it is causing serious economic difficulties.
It could also suspend customs checks across the Irish Sea and this may threaten the European Single Market.
Sefcovic said the Commission had proposed a whole new model for how goods can be moved from Britain to Northern Ireland, creating a sort of express lane that could cut customs-related red tape by half.
“A significant range of retail goods would also benefit from simplified certification. This would result in a reduction of up to 80 per cent of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks,” he said.
Northern Ireland is at the centre of the post-Brexit trade dispute between Britain and the EU.
As part of the Brexit deal, the Protocol stipulates that Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market and customs union to avoid a hard border between the region and the Republic of Ireland.
However, this leads to a new “regulatory” border between Britain and Northern Ireland.
For months, the UK has complained the rigid operation of the protocol, part of the Brexit deal, is unacceptable because it has severely disrupted trade, affected consumers and contributed to political instability.