IRISH MINISTER for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney TD, told reporters yesterday that he expects the British Government to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Irish protocol amid ongoing unrest over the implementation of a so-called ‘Irish Sea border’.
The minister warned that this could lead to an escalation in worsening diplomatic relations between the UK and the EU, even seeming to suggest that it could culminate in a series of bitter trade disputes.
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin struck a more cautious note, however, telling press gathered in his native Cork that such pessimism could end up becoming a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’.
Mr Martin said he was hopeful that negotiating parties from both the British and European delegations had the will to see a positive outcome, and that all sides were working tirelessly to achieve that.
He warned that any party working unilaterally had the potential to damage British/Irish relations and that long-term implications needed to be considered carefully before any major decisions were made.
Asked whether the Irish Government had made any preparations in the event of a potential trade war, Mr Martin said:
“Let's take it one step at a time, as I said the immediate focus is on the negotiations between the EU and the UK.”
Some have pointed out that an Taoiseach’s comments reflect a reticence on his part to reveal the true nature of any potential crisis and that there is, in fact, deep consternation within the Irish Government that the UK may be readying itself for another diplomatic conflict.
Former Irish Ambassador to London and the EU, Bobby McDonagh, said that the EU and UK appear to be on the brink of crisis.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, Mr McDonagh said that triggering Article 16 would lead to a “very significant crisis in British/EU relations and Irish/British relations.”
He also said that while the EU may seek legal recourse in the event of any bad faith actions by the British Government, legal actions are likely to take be time-consuming and as such are unlikely to deter the UK from continuing down the wrong path.
This, he said, would leave the EU with little other option than to force trade sanctions on the UK.