What is Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol? Why is it so controversial?

Brexit: Attempt to trigger Article 16 a ‘mistake’ says Sefcovic

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The Northern Ireland Protocol is part of the Brexit deal that sets out the country’s trading arrangements with the rest of the UK and EU after Brexit. Talks over trade arrangements with Northern Ireland were some of the hardest negotiations made during the Brexit talks.

The protocol is supposed to facilitate easy trading to prevent goods from being stopped at borders and to avoid checkpoints.

The Protocol means that Northern Ireland has a different status to England, Scotland and Wales when it comes to trade with the EU.

It basically means that the country remains inside the EU’s customs territory and the Single Market for products.

This was done to prevent a border where goods are checked when travelling between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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It means goods can flow between the two without custom checks, tariffs or the need for extra paper work.

Due to the historic tensions between the two territories, concerns were raised that creating a land trade border could spark hostilities.

What is Article 16?

Article 16 is a part of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

It allows either the UK or EU to unilaterally suspend some aspects of its trade operations, such as halting the flow of certain goods.

Article 16 was supposed to be viewed as a temporary measure only to be triggered if “serious” problems emerge.

It is only meant to be invoked when the protocol unexpectedly leads to “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.

If the article is triggered, the other side is allowed to take “rebalancing” steps in response.

It was designed to be triggered in times of crisis and only if the UK or EU can’t reach a joint decision to tackle a problem that has arisen.

Has Article 16 been triggered?

The EU faced much condemnation for triggering Article 16 in January 2021, as it attempted to make up for its large shortfall in vaccines.

Many EU countries were far behind the UK in their vaccine rollouts.

The EU triggered Article 16 in an attempt to stop vaccines going from EU factories to the UK, despite the UK pre-securing these vaccines.

The EU had to make a U-turn on its decision to trigger Article 16 after it faced an international backlash.

Arlene Foster who was the First Minister of Northern Ireland at the time described the move as an “incredible act of hostility”.

Hours after triggering Article 16 the EU said it was “not triggering the safeguard clause” saying it has been an “oversight”.

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