Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will have no hesitation in triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol if “disproportionate” problems arise as a result of the Brexit deal struck in December last year. Mr Johnson made the comments in the House of Commons yesterday, as he answered a question from the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson about supermarkets and retailers grappling with post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland. Article 16 allows the EU or the UK to unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures if its application leads to “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist”, or to diversion of trade.
The Prime Minister attacked the rules he agreed – as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement in 2019 – as he was warned the situation in Northern Ireland shops could worsen.
However, Conservative MP Simon Hoare claimed triggering Article 16 “would do huge damage to the Good Friday Agreement” and as a result “damage the relationship between our country and the US”.
The sentiment was echoed by Government trade adviser Shanker Singham, who firmly believes a US-UK trade deal is still very much on the cards, unless Mr Johnson diverges from the Protocol.
Shanker Singham, the CEO of economic consultancy Competere, told Express.co.uk: “The number one priority which has gone up the list massively in the US with Biden is the proper implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“So any suggestion that the UK Government is going to resile from the Protocol in any way, suspend it or whatever, would be very badly regarded in the US.
“It would not only kill any deal with Washington, it would likely kill the diplomatic relationship between the two countries, actually.”
The Europeans and the Irish, Mr Singham noted, are very good at going to the US, saying that Britain is violating the Good Friday Agreement.
But this is all “nonsense” and “not actually true”.
He continued: “The European vision on how to implement the Good Friday Agreement actually violates the Good Friday Agreement, as they treat Northern Ireland as a European member state, without the consent of the Northern Irish people.
“It is really incumbent on the British Government, who, frankly, needs to do a better job at explaining what I just said.
“The only way to properly implement it is to do it in such a way that you deliver three things: you deliver unfettered access, Northern Ireland to Great Britain, you deliver as free a flow as possible, Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and you deliver no border on the island of Ireland.”
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Mr Singham argued that if Britain achieves this, the primary objection of the Biden administration will immediately disappear.
Several senior US officials have recently been warning the UK not to expect a trade deal any time soon.
Charles Kupchan, who advised the National Security Council on European affairs under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, painted a difficult picture of post-Brexit relations between London and Washington.
He told Politico: “When you wanted to get something done with Europe, you made the first or perhaps second call to London. In 2021, you’re still going to call London, but that call will be lower down in the queue.
“Britain doesn’t have a seat at the table anymore.”
However, Mr Singham rubbished such claims, saying: “Any new US President has to focus on domestic policy for the first few months.
“He cannot seem to be leading with foreign policy and I expect Biden to be no different.
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“He will be trying to offset the balance of the Trump administration, the anti-Europe approach.
“But at the end of the day, what does it mean for trade policy?”
Mr Singham noted: “At the end of the day, a deal with the UK is the only deal a Democrat President like Biden can actually do, because there is no race to the bottom on labour and environment, there is no offshoring of US jobs.”
The trade expert talked to several cross-party politicians in Congress, who all seemed excited about the prospect of a US-UK trade deal.
He added: “It does seem to be coming from a lot of sources.
“I have had conversations with Richard Neal, who is the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
“Ron Wyden, who will be the Chairman of the Senate Finance committee.
“They all want a deal with the UK. If anything, that really has not changed.”