Sun. Nov 28th, 2021

The EU will have “no choice” but to take revenge if the UK continues to threaten to suspend parts of the Brexit agreement for Northern Ireland in the coming days, Ireland’s deputy prime minister warned.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Ireland had begun “dusting off” contingency preparations in case London acted unilaterally to suspend some parts of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, raising concerns that differences over Brexit could cause a trade war between the EU and the UK.

Relations between London and Brussels quickly soured as the UK sought to rewrite the post-Brexit trade agreement for Northern Ireland that left the region in the EU’s customs union and internal market to return a north-south to prevent trade border in Ireland

That arrangement, which the UK now says is “unsustainable”, was agreed to preserve the landmark 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended three decades of sectarian conflict. All of the region’s predominantly Protestant Unionist parties have rejected the protocol, saying the arrangements undermine their place in the UK.

London says concessions made by Brussels last month to reduce the impact of checks on goods travel between Great Britain and Northern Ireland across a new customs border in the Irish Sea does not go far enough.

Varadkar told RTÉ radio on Tuesday that Britain Article 16 caused clause of the protocol to unilaterally suspend key parts of the agreement, the European Commission may be forced to delete the post-Brexit trade and cooperation agreement.

However, this harsh attitude has divided EU member states. Countries like France and Ireland calls for tougher measures, but EU officials and diplomats have scaled down talks on preventive measures against the UK. “We are not there yet,” said one official.

Brexit commissioner Maros Sefcovic will brief EU ambassadors and MEPs on Wednesday ahead of a meeting with British Brexit minister Lord David Frost on Friday.

“I do not think anyone wants to see the European Union suspend the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Britain, but if Britain were to act in such a way that it resigned from the protocol, from the withdrawal agreement, I think the European Union would have no choice but to . . . respond, ”Varadkar said.

Legal experts said a UK decision to suspend parts of the Northern Ireland agreement would undermine the basis on which the EU agreed to the zero-tariff, zero-quota trade agreement.

“If the UK pulls the plug on substantive provisions of that withdrawal agreement, the EU could argue it gives them grounds to terminate [the TCA], ”Said Catherine Barnard, Professor of EU Law at Cambridge University.

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Frost has said since July that the threshold has already been reached to justify the use Article 16 due to the economic and political disruption caused by the protocol.

One diplomat described a meeting last week between Frost and Sefcovic in Brussels last week as “cold” and “their worst ever… They just talk past each other”.

Senior EU diplomats said there was a growing consensus among member states that it could not be “business as usual” if the UK resorted to Article 16. “No short-term measures have been decided, but there will be talks on the possible suspension of the TCA,” said one EU diplomat.

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