Brexit News, Member News

Vulcan Insight | Franco-British tensions continue as article 16 threat looms

21 months on from the fight about the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and only a bare 6 months after the much-negotiated post-Brexit EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement entered into effect, tensions between the UK Government and both, the European Commission and the French Government, continue to persist over the Northern Ireland Protocol and fishing rights.

After months of talks and rhetorical fire over the function of the Northern Ireland Protocol under EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, UK Brexit Minister David Frost and European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič continue their discussions over how to minimise the Protocol’s restrictions on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The formal talks follow Mr. Šefčovič’s far-reaching proposals on the Protocol on 13 October, and the UK’s so-called Command Paper earlier this year. However, with the UK Government’s apparent, and indeed unrealistic, red line of removing the European Court of Justice as the ultimate legal authority on Protocol disputes in the province, there remains to be any sign of technical or political breakthrough in the negotiations.

The matter is also, of course, further complicated by the rhetorical fishing war that has been simmering between France and the UK for weeks now.

While French President Emmanuel Macron has sought to slightly de-escalate the tensions in recent days, France’s seizure of a fishing trawler and crew, paired with its threats to retaliate over a lack of granted fishing licenses by increasing checks on UK trucks and fishing vessels or by cutting off the UK’s energy supply significantly raised the temperature.

After a meeting on Thursday between Mr. Frost and France’s European Affairs Minister Clément Beaune failed to bring an end to the bilateral spat, it remains to be seen what next actions will follow.

Meanwhile, there are worries among the EU Member States and the European Commission that the UK Government is purposely raising tensions with France in order to divide and conquer the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Moreover, concerns are also mounting that the UK Government seeks to muddle the water between, politically and legally, two completely separate disputes to continue its argument that the EU negotiates in “bad faith,” and thus justify its triggering of Article 16 later in the year.

By now, most observers believe that the UK Government is preparing to trigger Article 16 once it has portrayed a “Global Britain” public relations victory at COP26.

However, if it should do so, it would be met by significant sanctions from the European Union. While not yet fully finalised, they could range from targeted, sectoral sanctions, all the way to a full suspension of the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Compliments of Vulcan Consulting – a member of the EACCNY.