A senior British cabinet minister has expressed confidence that a deal over the Northern Ireland protocol can be agreed without recourse to unilateral action under Article 16.
Michael Gove, who played a key role in negotiations between London and Brussels until last year, praised the European Commission's approach to talks with Brexit minister David Frost.
“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.
Mr Gove was speaking in Cardiff after a meeting of the British-Irish Council attended by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and representatives from Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
Mr Martin said he believed that everyone involved in negotiations over the protocol wanted to resolve the issue in the best interest of the people of Northern Ireland.
“I work very hard to develop good, strong relationships with the British government and with Boris Johnson and I have a strong personal relationship with Boris Johnson,” he said.
"He's honest in admitting that he did sign an agreement, but he feels the operation of it is not what he had intended. That said, the European Union has indicated the willingness to engage to resolve the issues that some in Northern Ireland have identified.
“I believe that in the discussions I’ve had now over the last while there’s a genuine desire on all sides to get this resolved through negotiation and through the avoidance of triggering any particular mechanisms within the withdrawal agreement.”
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed Mr Gove’s comments about the protocol. She said that triggering Article 16 would be “one of the most irresponsible things that could be done right now” in the face of Covid-19 and other challenges including the consequences of Brexit.
Ms Sturgeon said the EU’s proposals offered a broad blueprint for a solution which would open the way for a more constructive relationship between Britain and the bloc.
“The consequences of a bad relationship are very real. This is not an abstract political debate. The consequences will be felt in particular by businesses and individuals, the length and breadth of the UK,” she said.
“This is about people’s livelihoods and standard of living, the ability to trade and keep food on supermarket shelves. This is real. It’s not politics, and I think it’s important to say that.
“The triggering of Article 16 would have profound and deeply damaging consequences for every part of the UK. I think that would be the case at any time, but particularly now when we’re already dealing with Brexit disruption and all of us are trying to deal with and look ahead to recovery from Covid. It is disruption that nobody needs and nobody should be contemplating. So I believe it would be wrong and also crucially, I think it is unnecessary.”