A no-deal Brexit will be back on the table if the UK proceeds with triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, members of the House of Lords have told a Dail committee.
The UK’s Brexit Minister Lord Frost is to make a statement on Wednesday that could signal a suspension of the post-Brexit arrangements drawn up with the EU.
Such a move is likely to spark retaliation from the EU, with talk of a suspension of the EU-UK trade deal that could result in a trade war.
Lord Jay of Ewelme, chair of the House of Lords sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, said a triggering of Article 16 risked resetting negotiations and could result in a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “I agree with you very much on what to say about the risks of Article 16 being imposed or being triggered and the response to Article 16 by the European Union, potentially leading to all the complicated negotiations with the prospect of a no-deal as the last stage. That is one end of the spectrum.
“The other end of the spectrum, which I think we can’t rule it out, and I certainly wouldn’t want to rule out, although I must say that the prospects are not looking brilliant at the moment, is for a negotiated settlement to be reached between now and Christmas or over Christmas.
“I don’t think we can rule that out.”
The comments came at a joint meeting between the Oireachtas Committee on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement with the House of Lords Committee and the Seanad Special Select Committee on Brexit on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Irish deputy premier Leo Varadkar said EU retaliatory action should be expected if London unilaterally activates Article 16 of the protocol to suspend post-Brexit checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
He said the Irish Government is reactivating no-deal contingency planning in preparation for a potential unravelling of the Brexit deal.
Talks between London and Brussels over the contentious protocol remain deadlocked and there is growing speculation that the UK is poised to trigger Article 16 in the coming days.
Lord Hain, a former secretary of state for Northern Ireland, told the committee that a move to trigger Article 16 by the UK Government would be “aggressive and bombastic”.
He said: “If Lord Frost does announce the triggering of Article 16, that is a very aggressive and bombastic move by the British Government, that I … fear has been coming for a while.
“We’re going to need to work together with you parliamentarians across the Irish Sea to try and cope with the fallout because I think it’ll be significant.
“It seems to me that his (Lord Frost’s) negotiating stance under the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pointed to the triggering of Article 16 and a confrontation, which in my view is not designed to solve the problem.
“It is designed to appeal to the Conservative Party’s Brexit base, which is a total and radical departure from the close relationship of trust that was painstakingly built over decades between Dublin and London.
“And given the tangled history of the two countries and the two centres, to destroy that trust is very, very serious indeed.
“We’ve got to do our best, if this transpires, and it’s already badly damaged that trust.
“If this transpires we’ve got to do our best to rebuild trust and strengthen it between ourselves, as it were, in parallel to what’s going on from London.”