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Leo Varadkar: Ireland has 'contingency preparations' ready in case of EU-UK trade war

Varadkar said triggering Article 16 would mean the EU would have to respond.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Nov 9th 2021, 5:09 PM

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said the EU would have “no option” but to respond to the UK triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

Varadkar said today that Ireland is making “contingency plans” should this happen and that officials were “dusting off” plans that were previously made ahead of fears of a no-deal Brexit. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Varadkar said triggering Article 16 effectively suspends the Protocol and “undoes” Brexit, forcing more trade negotiations. 

“I really hope that Britain doesn’t go down this road,” he said.

“Prime Minister Johnson always spoke about wanting Brexit done. Brexit is kind of done, but this potentially undoes it and I don’t think it’d be good for us or for Great Britain and I don’t see how it’s good for Northern Ireland.”

He added: “Bear in mind the Protocol is broadly supported by people in business and most political parties in Northern Ireland.”

Politicians in Northern Ireland earlier held a virtual meeting with UK Brexit Minister David Frost amid ongoing speculation that the UK government is preparing to unilaterally suspend the Protocol governing Irish Sea trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Varadkar said he thinks there would be an EU response to such an action and that “there would have to be”, he added that Irish officials are examining what would happen in such circumstances:

We had a meeting yesterday of the Cabinet sub-committee on Brexit, essentially to dust down and restart our contingency preparations should we get into difficulty. I don’t think anybody wants to see the European Union suspending the trade and cooperation agreement with Britain but if Britain were to act in such a way that it was resigning from the Protocol, resigning from the Withdrawal Agreement, I think the European Union would have no option other than to introduce what we call re-balancing measures to respond.

The operation of the Protocol has led to increased North-South trade in Ireland, but Varadkar acknowledged that there has been “some disruption to trade from Britain into Northern Ireland”.

Unionist politicians have called for the Protocol to be scrapped and it has been cited as among the reasons for disorder in loyalist areas of Northern Ireland. 

Two buses have been hijacked and burned out in loyalist areas in Northern Ireland this month in incidents linked to protocol opposition. 

Police were also attacked in clashes at a community interface in west Belfast involving youths from the nationalist Springfield Road and loyalist Shankill Road/Lanark Way on two nights last week.

Language

O'Neill NI Source: PA

Speaking today after that meeting with Frost, Stormont’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that threats and “incendiary language” from the UK government were contributing to street unrest. 

O’Neill said there was a need for London, and her DUP partners in government, to “dial down the rhetoric” over the post-Brexit trade arrangements.

She said Frost did not confirm to her that the government would definitely suspend the protocol by triggering Article 16 of the mechanism.

However, she linked the UK government’s repeated threats to trigger a suspension as a factor in heightening tensions that have seen the outbreaks of disorder in Northern Ireland.

“I’ve made it very clear to him that it’s time to dial down the rhetoric, that the wider community here want solutions, they want to make the protocol work, they want us to iron out the issues that need to be resolved but they certainly don’t want to see the spill out of the language, the incendiary language actually from the British Government and the DUP, that’s now spilling out on to our streets and we now see street disorder – none of us want that,” said O’Neill.

“So we need to do everything in our power to stop it. So I’ve asked them to dial it down, I have warned them against the language they’re using, I have also asked them to remove the threat to trigger Article 16 because that’s not what the majority of parties here want, what the wider business community want.

“What we need to find is solutions and stability, certainly not another period of instability, uncertainty, and all that that brings with it.”

Asked if Frost had confirmed that the government would trigger Article 16, O’Neill said: “I think it’s unfortunate that they continue to repeat their mantra that Article 16 conditions have been met.

“It’s my assessment from the conversation today – however, I caveat everything I say with the fact that this is David Frost, the man that negotiated the protocol and who’s now trying to renegotiate the protocol – but his statement today was clearly in the line of that talks are going to continue, that they want to find solutions and that they don’t want to trigger Article 16.

“However, again, I caveat that with the fact that this is the man that actually negotiated in the first place.”

Meanwhile, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has confirmed that he has sought a security assessment from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) about comments by unionist politicians about the support for institutions in the North.

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Yesterday the Progressive Unionist Party, which is politically aligned to the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, said there was no basis for unionists to retain support for the Good Friday agreement, which established the power-sharing institutions at Stormont.

Speaking at the annual Association of Garda Sergeants & Inspectors conference today, Harris confirmed that he spoke with PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne about the matter yesterday.

“We have sought an analysis then from the Police Service of Northern Ireland and indeed the security service in respect of just what the ramifications are of yesterday’s statement,” he said.

““Regrettably, we have seen violent incidents where buses have been destroyed in Northern Ireland.

“It is against that backdrop that we have asked for their assessment on what they think is going to happen next.”

- With reporting by Press Association and Niall O’Connor.

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