Last week, it was reported Prime Minister Boris Johnson was poised to overhaul the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland but was persuaded otherwise at the eleventh-hour by his Brexit minister Lord Frost. But the warning to deploy the so-called “nuclear option” was reportedly still issued to Ireland and UK officials are understood to have made clear it is Mr Johnson – and not Lord Frost – who is in fact most in favour of triggering Article 16. The enforcement of Article 16 could spark another huge rift with the European Union as it is the mechanism by which either side is able to suspend parts of the Protocol if they believe it is causing huge economic or societal damage to the region.
But the Prime Minister has been warned that while he may be left with little choice but to trigger Article 16, it could spark a furious backlash from the EU and have grave consequences for UK trade.
Wyn Grant, political scientist and professor of politics at the University of Warwick, told Express.co.uk: “The Prime Minister may feel that he has no alternative to triggering Article 16 to provoke a resolution of the situation.
“However, this would almost certainly lead to retaliation from the EU in terms of trade.
“It is very likely that the EU would impose tariffs on selected British exports.
“The alternative is to accept the EU’s food and hygiene rules, but that would clash with the whole idea of taking back control.”
Professor Grant added the damage the Protocol has inflicted on the flow of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland “could have been anticipated” by the UK Government.
But he warned both London and Brussels now find themselves “boxed in” and the escalating situation will only “get worse before it gets better”.
The politics expert said: “There is no doubt that the Protocol is disrupting the flow of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland, although that could have been anticipated.
But while Lord Frost warned the UK believes the conditions for triggering Article 16 had now been met and the Protocol in its current form is no longer a viable solution, he instead called for the mechanism to be rewritten.
The Brexit minister said in a statement to the House of Lords: “It is plainly clear that the circumstances exist to justify the use of Article 16.
“Nevertheless, we have concluded that this is not the right moment to do so.”
In a bitter blow to those proposals, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen rejected the proposals from Lord Frost.
She said: “The EU will continue to be creative and flexible within the Protocol framework. But we will not renegotiate.”
But on Wednesday, the European Commission appeared to change its tone slightly on the matter.
A spokeswoman said: “The Commission will carefully assess the new proposals made by the UK, in accordance with the necessary consultation procedures, both internally, and with the European Parliament.”