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Gove confident progress can be made on NI Protocol without triggering Article 16

The British-Irish Council meeting is taking place in Cardiff today.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

UK CABINET MINISTER Michael Gove has expressed confidence that progress can be made in negotiations with the European Commission over the Northern Ireland Protocol without the need for the UK to trigger Article 16. 

Speaking at the British Irish Council summit in Cardiff, Gove said:

“I do believe that there is a constructive approach that’s being taken by the commission and Lord Frost has signalled that while, of course, it’s always possible that Article 16 may require to be invoked, we’re confident that we’ll be able to make progress without it.”

He said they will maintain the right to trigger Article 16 if solutions “on the ground” in Northern Ireland cannot be found. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said there is now a need to “turn a corner” in terms of the relationship between the EU and UK. 

He also said the British-Irish relationship is “essential” to underpinning the Good Friday Agreement.

He said he accepts everyone’s bona fides in their intention to solve the issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

The Taoiseach also said he had a good relationship with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, adding that he was “honest” with him in admitting that he signed the agreement, but feels the operation of it is “not what he intended”. 

Martin said the EU has also accepted that there are issues with the Protocol, and they are open to resolving those difficulties. 

Gove said there is a genuine desire that the interests of those living in Northern Ireland are at the heart of the discussions. 

The Taoiseach urged everyone to direct their energies “over the next while” to find a comprehensive solution, stating maintaining good relations is important “given the way the world is going”.  

Gove agreed with the Taoiseach, stating that the first step is making sure dealing with the Protocol on the ground will help ensure better relations first and foremost between the EU and the UK. 

Co-operation on a daily basis “remains strong”, he added. 

First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said it is important that relationships between all parties get to a better place and that no one “stokes tensions”.

She said she welcomed Gove’s language in saying that he hopes that triggering Article 16 will not be necessary. 

Sturgeon said such a move would be “most irresponsible”.

The meeting of politicians from across the UK and Ireland comes amid ongoing negotiations between London and Brussels about post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this week, Brexit Minister David Frost was urged by political parties at Stormont to find agreement with the EU over the protocol.

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Following a meeting today with Frost, Maroš Šefčovič, vice president of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Relations, reiterated the need for “a shift into a result-oriented mode”. 

This is the case “particularly for the uninterrupted long-term supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland”,  Šefčovič said, adding that “there is a genuine urgency.”

In his statement, he urged the UK government to “reciprocate the big move made by the EU” in the area of sanitary and phytosanitary controls, which “would lead to a very significant simplification of certification and a reduction in checks”. 

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, who is hosting the meeting, said that the summit was a “timely opportunity to support dialogue and collective action between our governments.

“This is more essential than ever given the current challenges we all face.

“The council plays a unique and critical role in developing positive relationships between its members,” he said.

The last meeting of the British-Irish Council took place in June in Fermanagh.

Additional reporting by Zuzia Whelan

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