No case for triggering Article 16

Posted By: October 06, 2021

Irish News. Belfast. Editorial. Monday, October 4, 2021.

Any decision to trigger Article 16 during the Conservative Party’s annual conference this week would be flamboyant, flawed and likely to cause long term damage on a range of fronts – in other words, an archetypal Boris Johnson move.

Mr. Johnson has steadily been allowing speculation to grow that he will indeed use the Article 16 option, which allows either the UK or the EU to temporarily set aside part of the Irish protocol on the grounds that it is allegedly causing “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade”.

It was of course the same Mr. Johnston who negotiated and eventually signed the protocol deal with the EU less than a year ago, and an attempt to revisit it so swiftly could only seriously dent the international reputation of both the UK premier and his country.

Instead of accepting responsibility for his own actions, Mr. Johnson told the BBC on Friday that he had endorsed the protocol because he `has an optimistic nature and thought they (the EU) would want to respect the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.’

Mr. Johnson and his supporters displayed zero concern for the 1998 peace accord during the crucial stages of the Brexit process, and it is embarrassing that he is now attempting to pretend otherwise.

There will be a strong suspicion that the latest debate over Article 16 has been manufactured to distract attention from the UK’s widespread fuel crisis, yet another hugely negative consequence of the Brexit debacle.

No one has ever suggested that the protocol was a perfect arrangement, and attempts by the EU to revise some of its provisions, with a specific view to facilitating the distribution of medicines, are already at an advanced stage.

However, it has always represented a logical and reasonable way of reducing the dangers presented by Brexit to Ireland, both north and south, as well as offering clear economic opportunities.

Any attempt to trigger Article 16 can be expected to be met by comprehensive legal action on behalf of the EU, a case which like so many other elements of Brexit may not end well for the UK.

The Irish foreign affairs minister, Simon Coveney, a reliable voice on these issues, has noted the talk coming out of Downing Street on Article 16 but does not believe it will be followed by action. Let us hope he is correct.