Brexit: Liz Truss considers triggering Article 16 if she wins Tory leadership race


Liz Truss
 is said to be considering a bold move to trigger Article 16 action against the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol next month if she wins the Conservative leadership contest.

The foreign secretary – strong favourite to become the next PM on 5 September – is mulling whether to invoke the mechanism in a potential escalation of the post-Brexit row with Brussels.

Triggering Article 16 immediately would allow the UK to unilaterally suspend all or parts of the protocol agreed in the Brexit deal before a September 15 deadline of legal action by the EU.

Liz Truss is contemplating the move “within days” of entering No 10 if she defeats Rishi Sunak in the Tory race, according to the Financial Times – citing several government insiders.

Officials close to Truss have reportedly consulted legal and trade experts over the option in recent weeks as one way of dealing with looming legal proceedings by the EU.

The Independent understands that triggering Article 16 remains an option on the table for Truss, but she has not pushed government officials to work up a plan for its use next month.

In June the European Commission launched legal action against the UK in response to the bill – announced by Truss – aimed at override the protocol by unilaterally setting up a new trade arrangements for good moving between NI and GB.

In July Brussels launched four new legal “infringement proceedings” against the UK government, accusing it of breaking parts of the protocol Brexit deal.

The UK has until 15 September to offer a response to the EU warning of legal action, only 10 days after the winner of Tory contest succeeds Boris Johnson in Downing Street.

Allies of Truss are said to be looking at whether Article 16 could provide a legal “stop-gap” while the controversial legislation moves through the Commons. The bill is not expected to pass for at least several months.

“Some government officials have raised concerns about issues coming down the track and have presented many options to ministers to deal with them,” an official close to the foreign secretary told the FT.

Article 16 is safeguard measures can be taken by either the UK or EU to suspend the protocol if the trade arrangements are leading to serious “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.

Raoul Ruparel, former Brexit adviser to Theresa May at No 10, said he did not think triggering it would be a “massive escalation” in the UK-EU row – though he accepted it would be “a controversial view”.

He tweeted: “UK has to respond to EU challenging legal base of current standstill – which is supported by NI business and most political parties. So in that narrow sense this is potentially a legal way to do this.”

Trade policy expert Sam Lowe agreed, saying that use of Article 16 “as a justification to extend existing grace periods / standstills / etc. would be … fine”.

However, David Henig, a director at the European Centre for International Political Economy, said any experts consulted on triggering Article 16 would “probably the expertise judged on whether they give the right answer”.

Henig tweeted: “You start to wonder whether anyone will be able to introduce Liz Truss to reality once in post.”

A Sinn Fein minister warned any move to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol would be reckless and inflict greater “damage” on the region’s economy

Northern Ireland’s finance minister Conor Murphy said: “These issues around the protocol need to be resolved through dialogue – not through unilateral action in terms of protocol legislation or unilateral action in terms of triggering Article 16.”

It comes as Truss sparked a row with French president Emmanuel Macron with remarks made at Thursday night’s Tory hustings event in Norwich.

The foreign secretary told Tory members that the “jury’s out” on whether president Macron was “friend or foe” to Britain.

Macron responded with a warning of his own on Friday, saying: “If France and Britain cannot say whether they are friends or enemies…then we are headed for serious problems.”

Labour’s David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, said her Macron comments showed a “woeful lack of judgement” by insulting a close ally.

Former minister and Tory peer Gavin Barwell tweeted: “You would have thought the foreign secretary was aware we are in a military alliance with France”.

Published by anthonyhayble

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