Boris Johnson’s Brexit negotiating strategy on Northern Ireland has been confused after a cabinet minister ruled out a full-scale confrontation with the EU. for Christmas.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the UK’s international trade secretary, said it was “absolutely not” Britain’s intention to activate the Article 16 process, which ignores post-Brexit trade arrangements in Northern Ireland, in the coming weeks.
Her remarks last week confirmed an FT report that ministers wanted a Christmas “halt” to give the UK and EU negotiators time to try to reach a compromise on border arrangements in Northern Ireland.
“I do not think anyone is calling Article 16 before Christmas, absolutely,” she told the Daily Telegraph.
Trevelyan’s remarks undermine the position of Lord David Frost, the UK’s Brexit minister, who insisted the government was ready to activate Article 16 at any time, and maintained that it was “on the table”.
Trevelyan suggested that the government expects Frost and his EU counterpart, Maros Sefcovic, to continue talking for a while, saying that they will “fight to do the work that negotiators do”.
Negotiations are continuing between the two sides to try to mitigate the application of the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the Brexit agreement that deals with trade relations in Northern Ireland.
The protocol left Northern Ireland in the EU’s internal market for goods to prevent the return of a north-south trade border to the island of Ireland, but it does mean that there are some controls on trade between Great Britain and the region is.
“We remain in favor of voting for a negotiated solution if we can,” a Downing Street spokesman said. “Of course we will use Article 16, the security mechanism, if solutions cannot be found.”
When asked directly whether the government was prepared to activate Article 16 before Christmas, the spokesman apparently rejected Trevelyan’s words, saying, “Well, I’m not going to put a timetable on that.”
The FT Revealed Trade Secrets, its must-read daily briefing on the changing face of international trade and globalization.
Sign in here to understand which countries, companies and technologies are shaping the new global economy.
Separately, Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, said during a hearing in Parliament’s committee on public accounts that ports were preparing well for the introduction of full controls on EU imports from next July.
Ballantyne said there should be “sufficient capacity in terms of physical space”, but added that there were “doubts” about whether there would be enough veterinarians and other officials to carry out the checks.
“If government officials, departments and agencies want to start withdrawing more than 90 percent of the goods for various checks, you will experience a capacity issue,” he told MPs.
Meanwhile, Nigel Farage, former Brexit party leader, said he was considering a political return in the wake of the ongoing migration crisis in the English Channel, but added that she was “gut instinct” not to do so.
Farage is now a presenter on GB News. However, Tory MPs are worried that an anti-immigration party on the right of the Conservatives could re-emerge to channel public frustration over the migration issue.