Go on, we dare you! EU challenges UK to game of chicken over Article 16 trigger

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Talks are continuing between the UK and EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the Brexit divorce deal which avoided a hard border with Ireland. The deal effectively keeps Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods, resulting in some checks for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain, which left the single market.

Lord Frost has claimed the conditions for using Article 16 – allowing parts of the deal to be suspended – have been met because of the difficulties being caused.

The UK wants an end to the European Court of Justice’s oversight role, something that Brussels has said is impossible.

European Commission executive vice-president Frans Timmermans told ITV’s Robert Peston: “I think Mr Frost knows very well that this is not possible for the European Union.

“I know he knows full well that whenever the internal market is involved, the ultimate arbitrator is the European Court of Justice.”

But he said the European Commission had been “bending over backwards” to reach an agreement with the UK on the protocol.

Responding to the threats of Article 16 being triggered, another Commission source told Politico: “We’re trying to find solutions within the process that’s ongoing.

“If the UK focuses on Article 16 instead, they will still be faced with exactly the same questions, exactly the same challenges, exactly the same problems, the day after they trigger it.”

Lord Frost is expected to talk about the issue with France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune in Paris today.

The pair will mainly meet in an attempt to end a bitter dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights.

France has threatened sanctions over what it perceives as a refusal to issue licences to its trawlers to operate in UK waters.

The UK Government insisted the overwhelming majority of applications for licences have been granted.

French President Emmanuel Macron has delayed the imposition of punitive measures while talks between the UK, France and the European Commission take place.

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But the French government has insisted the measures – which could include a ban on British trawlers landing their catches in French ports and tighter customs checks to hamper cross-Channel trade – remain “on the table” if a deal cannot be reached.

Lord Frost will follow his talks with Mr Beaune on Thursday by heading to Brussels on Friday to meet European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal underlined that the threat of sanctions remained: “We will see what comes with those meetings.

“As you know, the control measures that we announced are still suspended but all options are on the table and we may need to implement those measures if we do not reach an agreement.”

On Wednesday, he said: “We are just waiting for one thing: for the UK to respect the deal that they signed.”

Under the Brexit deal, European Union boats which can show they have fished in British waters in at least four of the years from 2012 to 2016 are eligible for a licence.

Some 1,831 applications for licences have been received, with 1,793 issued.

The main source of contention has been for smaller vessels, the under 12-metre category fishing between six and 12 nautical miles off the coast, where 50 applications have been received – all from French vessels – but just 19 have been issued.

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