Brexit contingency plans being dusted down, Varadkar says

UK expected to trigger Article 16 of Northern Ireland protocol in coming weeks

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that the Cabinet's Brexit sub-committee met on Monday to "essentially dust down and restart contingency preparations" in case a trade war develops with the UK.

Ireland and the EU expects the UK to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol in the coming weeks. This unilateral action would effectively suspend the operation of the protocol and have far-reaching consequences for EU-UK relations.

The protocol avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland by placing a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea.

Unionists and loyalists are opposed to it because they claim it has changed Northern Ireland’s constitutional status as part of the UK, and has caused trading difficulties, and there have been repeated calls for Article 16 to be triggered to address these issues.


"We're making preparations," Mr Varadkar told RTÉ radio's News at One. "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 rebalancing measures to respond, and I really hope Britain doesn't go down this road."

Mr Varadkar said that British prime minister Boris Johnson always spoke about wanting Brexit done, "Brexit is kind of done, but this potentially undoes it and I don't think it would be good for us, for Britain, and I don't see how it would be good for Northern Ireland.

“Bear in mind the protocol is broadly supported by people in business and most political parties in Northern Ireland and nobody is putting forward a preferable alternative.”

When asked what would happen if the UK were to invoke Article 16, Mr Varadkar said there would have to be a response from the European Union.

“What I would say at the outset though is the protocol is working, it was designed to prevent a hard Border between north and south and it’s done that. It’s helped to strengthen the all-island economy with increased trade north-south and south-north and also to protect the single market and our place in it which is really crucial to us.

“It has caused some disruption to trade from Britain into Northern Ireland, Maros Sefcovic and the European Union have put forward proposals to resolve most of those issues, unfortunately they haven’t been accepted by the British,” he said.

Suspending the Trade and Cooperation Agreement was something that the European Commission would have to consider, he said. "Bear in mind that invoking Article 16 doesn't set aside the protocol - some people think that, it doesn't.

“It’s a safeguarding mechanism. The first thing that has to happen is we have to enter talks for about a month and what that really means — what it does allow Britain to do is to take unilateral measures, but they can only be time limited and they can only be proportionate.”