Ireland has started developing contingency plans for a possible EU-UK trade war in the event Boris Johnson pulls out of the Northern Irish Brexit Protocol.
Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar also confirmed that the suspension of Lord Frost’s trade agreement last December was the likely EU response should the UK trigger Article 16 of the Protocol.
She told RTE News at One on Tuesday that such a move would undo the entire Brexit deal and bring about a breakdown in relations with the EU.
“I don’t think anyone wants the European Union to suspend the trade and cooperation agreement with the UK,” he said. “But if Britain were to act to leave the protocol, exit the exit agreement, I think the European Union would have no choice but to introduce so-called compensatory measures to respond.”
Varadkar, who as Taoiseach negotiated the protocol with Johnson at a meeting in Wirral in October 2019, added: “I really hope Britain does not go down this path. Prime Minister Johnson always spoke of bringing about Brexit.
“Brexit is kind of finished, but [this] may reverse it and I think it would not be good for us, for Britain, and I don’t see how it would be good for Northern Ireland. And remember that the protocol is widely supported by business and most political parties in Northern Ireland and no one has yet suggested a preferable alternative to it. “
Talks between the EU and the UK over the protocol have entered week three, but sources in Brussels remain pessimistic.
Varadkar told RTE that there was a cabinet briefing on Brexit on Monday to “essentially dust off our emergency preparations and resume if we get into trouble”.
The EU would have to announce that it is suspending the trade agreement so that no immediate obstacles are placed on exporters. However, this would raise alarm bells throughout the business and potentially damage UK relations not only with the EU but also with the US.
There are also fears that countries with significant trade ties with the UK, including France, Ireland and the Benelux countries, could now introduce 100% physical controls on trucks arriving from the UK, which could create traffic chaos on the streets in Kent.
Last December, thousands of truck drivers had to spend Christmas in their taxis in Kent truck parks and on roadsides after France required every driver to test negative for Covid-19 before boarding a ferry or Eurotunnel train.