The European Union is likely to challenge on legal grounds any decision by the United Kingdom to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to RTÉ News.
In addition, the EU could resort to increased tariffs on British products in retaliation, which officials say is provided for in the EU-UK free trade agreement.
Although the UK government has repeatedly threatened to trigger Article 16, claiming the conditions were already met, the European Commission does not believe this is the case and would challenge any triggering of the article on legal grounds.
While details have not been shared with member states, it is understood that the European Commission is preparing a hierarchy of responses if London triggers Article 16.
“The committee is of the opinion internally that Article 16 could happen at any time, that it has not disappeared, that it is a very serious possibility,” said a diplomat familiar with the preparations.
It is understood that the European Commission is working on a two-track approach, on the one hand by presenting new proposals that would facilitate the implementation of the protocol, while on the other hand preparing a response to an Article 16 decision. .
“In the second track they envision things like an additional offense [legal] procedures, arbitration mechanisms and cross reprisals in the [EU UK] Trade and cooperation agreement. There is a sort of hierarchy that is getting more and more serious, ”the diplomat said.
“The commission will legally challenge the invocation of the article by the United Kingdom, because the opinion would be that they do not have the right to invoke it, that the conditions are not met to invoke it.”
The preparations come amid latent tensions between London and Brussels over the protocol and a contested version of events surrounding British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington this week.
Despite the tensions, diplomats say there has been a slight improvement in mood, with a phone call last week between European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and his British counterpart David Frost.
A meeting of the EU-UK specialized committee, which manages the technical aspects of the protocol, is being held today in Brussels.
Yesterday on Twitter, Mr Frost said: “The protocol clearly has a continuing negative effect on daily life and business in Northern Ireland.
“The outstanding issues now need to be addressed urgently. My team and I are in daily contact with the EU, but we need a full response to our July command document soon. “
The British command document called for sweeping changes to the protocol, which the EU sees as an unacceptable renegotiation.
Officials said Mr Šefčovič would bring forward new proposals on customs, agri-food controls, drugs and an increased role for Stormont in mid-October, after the Tory Party conference concluded.
Technical talks involving the two sides are expected to intensify in the coming weeks. However, there are tensions over how the EU’s proposals are presented, with the UK insisting that London will not accept take it or leave it ideas.
“The British indicate that it is not only the substance of these proposals which is important”, explains a diplomat. “This is also how they emerge. Basically the British say it will only work if these proposals have an element of shared ownership.”
If the UK triggers Article 16, it is understood that Brussels and Dublin would strongly oppose any idea that a suspension of the provisions of the Goods Protocol would mean that the obligation to verify and control products entering the single market would revert to the Irish land border.
While such a scenario was envisaged in 2019, while a Brexit without an agreement was possible, on this occasion the context is different, according to sources.
In 2019, there was no legal fallback in place. Now, according to EU sources, there is the international and legally binding Withdrawal Agreement, of which the protocol is a part.