Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said on Wednesday that he doesn’t believe the UK will trigger the safeguard measure in the Northern Ireland Protocol any time soon.
Coveney’s comment came after the UK’s Brexit Minister David Frost hinted that he could trigger the Article 16 safeguard mechanism if the UK and the EU can’t agree on a solution to address the impact of the protocol on Northern Ireland soon.
Speaking on RTE radio, Coveney said he wouldn’t “read too much into the tough talk at a Conservative Party Conference.”
“My understanding is that the British government is not likely to trigger Article 16 any time soon,” he said.
The minister said he believed the UK was “committed to an intensive negotiation process for the rest of this month, with the European Commission, who are developing a new package of measures to try to ensure that we can take on board legitimate concerns that have been expressed with the implementation of the protocol.”
Coveney said the Irish government and the EU had listened “very carefully” to Frost’s comments but he believed negotiations between the two sides would continue.
“What we’re trying to do here is ensure that it is implemented in as flexible a way as possible to reduce its impact,” Coveney added.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was put in place to avoid a hard border within the island of Ireland, leaving Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market, but it has instead effectively placed a trade barrier in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The UK has demanded “significant” changes to the protocol since July.
Unionists want Prime Minister Boris Johnson to tear up the protocol, a move he has so far resisted as the government presses for a renegotiation with Brussels.
At a conference fringe event this week, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party needs to see the government take action “within weeks.”
“We need the government to set up, and to take action to remove this Irish Sea border, remove the barriers to trade within the United Kingdom, and fundamentally, to restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market,” Donaldson said.
Triggering Article 16 “has its use in the short term,” but legislation was needed “to restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the United Kingdom,” he said.
PA and Reuters contributed to this report.