Britain’s continued threats to break out of post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland are “hugely disruptive,” European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said, warning that the whole deal with the Kingdom -United would crumble if these rules were rescinded.

In an interview published on Tuesday, efčovič, 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 find that the protocol causes “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 extremely disruptive in the negotiations,” efčovič told German media outlet Spiegel. “You’re trying to achieve something together, and – boom – there’s the threat of Section 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 formed the basis of the whole deal,” adding: “Without the protocol the system collapses. We have to prevent this at all costs “.

Last month the Commission drafted a package of sanctions that could be used to retaliate against Britain if Article 16 were triggered, including options such as punitive tariffs that could be imposed on UK exports to the EU within a month or an entire post-Brexit suspension. trade agreement within nine months.

When asked if he expected the atmosphere for the Brussels-London talks to improve after British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was appointed Britain’s chief negotiator to the Following David Frost’s resignation, Šefčovič said he was “pragmatic” about the change. “A successful joint solution with our UK partners is more important to me than a good atmosphere,” he said.

He argued that existing problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol “should be resolved now” with regard to drug supply, or soon will be resolved with regard to customs and food safety controls. “Overall, we are on the right track,” he said, noting that a regular survey by Queen’s University Belfast found that at the end of October, for the first time, a majority voters in Northern Ireland viewed the Protocol as positive.

miss swiss

Asked about his other big negotiation, with Switzerland, Šefčovič stressed that after the Swiss decided in May to abandon a previously negotiated deal, it was now up to Bern to take action.

“First of all, we needed a political commitment from the Swiss government that it is serious to talk to us” on issues such as state aid and social rules or a dispute settlement mechanism , did he declare. “We would also need a clear timetable, a roadmap. We need to know when we want to talk about what – so that it is clear that the discussion will not take another 20 or 30 years.”

Šefčovič said the EU would not punish Switzerland for “negative measures” if Berne 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 believe are no longer suited to modern challenges. An agreement on mutual recognition of medical devices expired in May, which means it will be more complicated for manufacturers to trade such devices between the EU and Switzerland.

“The EU’s relationship with Switzerland risks disintegrating if bilateral treaties gradually expire and are not renewed,” warned efčovič, adding that such a development “would eventually render our relationship obsolete.”


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