Britain’s continued threats to pull out of post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland are “hugely disruptive”, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič has said, warning that the whole deal with the Kingdom United would collapse if these rules were overturned.
In an interview published on Tuesday, Šefčovič, the EU commissioner overseeing talks with the UK and Switzerland, warned that a UK decision to activate Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol would have “serious consequences”. for the economy of Northern Ireland, would endanger peace in the region and constitute a “huge setback” for EU-UK relations.
Article 16 allows either party to the agreement to take unilateral “safeguard” measures such as the suspension of trade controls between Britain and Northern Ireland if they conclude that the protocol leads to “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”. the suspension of the entire Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
The British government’s repeated threats to pull the trigger on the safeguard measure “are an extremely disruptive element in the negotiations”, Šefčovič told German news outlet Spiegel. “You’re trying to achieve something together, and – boom – there’s the threat of Article 16 again. It goes to the heart of our relationship.”
He argued that the Northern Ireland Protocol “was the most complicated part of the Brexit negotiations and is the bedrock of the whole deal”, adding: “Without the Protocol the system breaks down. We have to prevent this at all costs”.
Last month the Commission drafted a set of sanctions which could be used to retaliate against Britain if Article 16 were triggered, including options such as punitive tariffs which could be imposed on UK exports to the UK. EU within a month or an entire post-Brexit suspension. commercial agreement within nine months.
When asked if he expected the atmosphere in the talks between Brussels and London to improve after British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was appointed Britain’s chief negotiator at the following David Frost’s resignation, Šefčovič said he was “pragmatic” about the change. “A successful joint solution with our British partners is more important to me than a good atmosphere,” he said.
He argued that existing problems with the Northern Ireland protocol “should have been resolved by now” in relation to the supply of medicines, or will soon be resolved in relation to customs and food safety checks. “Overall we are on the right track,” he said, noting that a regular poll by Queen’s University Belfast had found that at the end of October, for the first time, a majority of Northern Ireland voters saw the protocol as positive.
Asked about his other big negotiation, with Switzerland, Šefčovič pointed out that after the Swiss decided in May to abandon a previously negotiated agreement, it was now up to Bern to take the next step.
“First of all, we needed a political commitment from the Swiss government to talk to us seriously” about issues such as state aid and social rules or a dispute settlement mechanism, he said. he declares. “We would also need a clear timeline, a roadmap. We need to know when we want to talk about what – so it’s clear that the discussion won’t take another 20 or 30 years.”
Šefčovič said the EU would not punish Switzerland with “negative measures” if Bern decided not to resume talks, but warned that bilateral relations would inevitably suffer.
The EU and Switzerland are connected via a patchwork of bilateral agreements, some of which date back decades and which businesses on both sides say are no longer fit for modern challenges. An agreement on the mutual recognition of medical devices expired in May, which means it will be more complicated for manufacturers to exchange these devices between the EU and Switzerland.
“The EU’s relationship with Switzerland risks disintegrating if bilateral treaties gradually expire and are not renewed,” warned Šefčovič, adding that such a development would “eventually render our relationship obsolete”.