What is Article 16? UK government warned of possible trade war over Northern Ireland protocol

The UK government has been warned of a potential trade war with the European Union if it insists on triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol.

Speaking to RTE, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney accused the British government of “deliberately forcing a breakdown” in talks, as tensions over Northern Ireland continue to rise.

Coveney added that if the UK government were to effectively “set aside” the Northern Ireland Protocol by triggering Article 16, the EU could respond in kind by suspending its post-Brexit trade deal with the UK.

READ MORE: What is the Good Friday Agreement? European official warns against NI Protocol “confrontation”

But what is Article 16 – and what does it mean?

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

The Northern Ireland Protocol is the term given to the special status given to Northern Ireland after the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

As the Northern Irish economy is heavily dependent on trade with the rest of Ireland, it was widely accepted that retaining an open border was essential.

However, the rest of the UK left both the European single market and customs union when it left the European Union, meaning that Northern Ireland needed a special arrangement with the EU to retain its open border with the Republic.

This was enshrined in the Northern Ireland Protocol. As a result of its status, the EU requires checks on certain goods before they enter the Republic of Ireland and hence the single market.

The Protocol is controversial because the EU requires border checks on goods, while Unionists are resentful that it effectively creates a border in the Irish Sea, giving Northern Ireland different treatment to Great Britain.

What is Article 16 and what does it mean?

Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol gives the UK and EU the ability to implement “safeguard” measures if either concludes that the deal is causing serious problems.

In effect, it allows both parties to the Brexit deal to suspend parts of it. The UK is under pressure to do this from Unionists and Loyalists in Northern Ireland.

However, doing so is likely to come at a heavy price if it happens, with the possibility of a tit-for-tat trade war between the UK and EU as a result.

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