The way to avoid Art.16 is to agree on Irish trade, says British Brexit negotiator

LONDON / BRUSSELS, Nov. 5 (Reuters) – Britain will not trigger the Article 16 emergency clause on Friday, its negotiator said as they arrived to negotiate with the EU Brexit pointman with the aim of overcoming trade disputes across the Irish border .

Article 16 is a measure that allows for unilateral action by either the EU or the UK if they believe that their post-Brexit trade agreement has a strong negative impact.

Britain left the EU last year, but it has since refused to carry out border controls between its province of Northern Ireland and bloc member Ireland as those to whom the 27-nation union says London is obliged under their divorce agreement.

The EU says tighter controls are needed to protect its 450 million people’s internal market, while London says it would harm UK unity by tearing Northern Ireland too far from the rest of the country.

“We do not want to trigger Article 16 today, but Article 16 is very much on the table,” Britain’s negotiator David Frost told reporters.

Article 16 allows each side to protect itself if it considers that the standing agreement, in this case: at the Irish border – the only land border between the EU and the UK since Brexit – has a strong negative impact on its interests.

As the expectation grows that London could resort to this option, Frost said the best way to avoid it was “if we can reach an agreement, a substantial agreement … that provides a sustainable solution”.

He said there was a “significant” gap between the EU and Britain in the matter and that time was running out for his negotiations with Maros Sefcovic, a deputy head of the bloc’s executive EU commission.

A Commission spokesman told a regular news briefing on Friday that the bloc was “fully focused on finding solutions that provide predictability for people” in Ireland and Northern Ireland, which share a history of sectarian violence.

Asked whether it planned what it would do if London were to trigger Article 16, the Commission – negotiating with Britain on behalf of EU countries – said earlier this week that it was always preparing for contingencies.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Christian Levaus and Johnny Cotton, Jan Strupczewski; written by Gabrela Baczynska, edited by William Maclean

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