‘Retreat’ on trade war threats, warns Lord Frost as EU prepares for Article 16 to be triggered

Lord Frost has urged France and the European Union to “stay calm” and drop threats of a trade war, as European diplomats said they were preparing for Britain to trigger Article 16.

Addressing the House of Lords, the Brexit minister told Brussels to “turn away from confrontation” that would risk peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

His intervention came as Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s President, claimed to have the backing of Joe Biden, the US President, in the escalating dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

And in a private meeting in Brussels, EU ambassadors were considering plans if the Government opts to suspend parts of the protocol by triggering Article 16.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, at a press conference outside the White House

Credit: Oliver Contreras/Abaca/Bloomberg

Following a meeting with President Biden at the White House, Mrs von der Leyen boasted that she had secured the support of the US administration for the Northern Ireland Protocol to be kept intact.

“I think President Biden and I will share the assessment that it is important for peace and stability on the island of Ireland to keep the withdrawal agreement and to stick to the protocol," Mrs von der Leyen told reporters in Washington.

“This protocol has managed to square the difficult circle that Brexit caused. And now Northern Ireland has access to both markets, access to the British single market as well as the European single market, therefore, the situation is a positive one. And we want to do everything to cut red tape to be as flexible as possible within the protocol.

“President Biden and I agreed on the need to preserve peace and stability on the island of Ireland."

‘Real opportunity to move beyond these difficulties’

Lord Frost accused the bloc of considering “disproportionate” retaliatory measures to rip up the Brexit trade deal. However, he insisted a new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland is still possible to cool tensions over the province.

“It’s not us making threats,” he told peers. “I gently suggest our European friends should stay calm and keep things in proportion.

“There’s a real opportunity to move beyond these difficulties. I urge everyone to take that road, not the road of confrontation.”

In bid to de-escalate the brewing row, Lord Frost urged the bloc to “retreat” from its threats to hit British goods with trade tariffs and delay cross-Channel shipments and help “find a quiet calm” in EU-UK relations.

Responding to claims that he is ready to walk out of negotiations over the protocol, the Brexit minister vowed he “won’t give up” on talks with Brussels, despite the lack of progress.

He questioned the bloc’s commitment to the Northern Irish peace process, insisting its threat of a “massive and disproportionate retaliation” would only further serve to destabilise the province.

‘Clear European response’

Meanwhile, Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice-president, warned senior diplomats that there had been little progress in the negotiations over a new Brexit deal for the region.

This provoked a debate over drawing up a unified package of measures to counter the possibility of Britain triggering Article 16.

“The EU is preparing for the triggering of Article 16 by the UK,” an EU diplomat said.

“There is consensus among EU member states that such an arbitrary and unjustified move by the UK will be met with a clear European response.”

Mr Sefcovic attempted to rein in European capitals, amid fears that any pre-emptive strike could create a bad impression for the bloc’s other international trading partners.

He vowed to respond in a “firm but calm” manner should Article 16 be triggered by Boris Johnson, insisting that any measures should seek to protect the single market and limit any further damage to the EU.

Lord Frost will meet Mr Sefcovic, his EU counterpart, in London on Friday, to conclude the fourth consecutive of talks over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Separately, the European Commission rolled over an equivalence deal for euro-denominated clearing houses, allowing them to keep operating from the City of London until "early 2022".

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