Officials from five EU member states held crunch talks with the bloc’s Brexit negotiator earlier this week and are said to have discussed retaliatory measures if negotiations with the UK relating to Northern Ireland collapse. One diplomat told the Financial Times that officials want the European Commission to come up with a “legally sound, proportionate and robust response”.
Such measures thought to have been considered include curbing the UK’s access to energy supplies in Europe, imposing tariffs on British exports or even cancelling the Brexit agreement.
The meeting took place with officials from France, Germany, Spain, Italy and The Netherlands on Monday.
It was sanctioned after the UK’s Brexit Minister Lord David Frost repeatedly refused to rule out triggering Article 16 of the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol.
The emergency mechanism would unilaterally suspend the international agreement and stop checks on goods in Northern Ireland.
The Protocol, signed as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement in January 2020, was created to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
As a result Northern Ireland remained part of the EU regulatory framework and Unionists argue this has effectively placed a trade barrier down the Irish Sea.
Lord Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic will hold further talks in Brussels later today.
The Brexit negotiators will analyse proposals put forward by the UK in a Command Paper in July, which called for the removal of a number of checks on goods in Northern Ireland and the involvement of the European Court of Justice.
“The EU has a broad palette of options for hitting back at the UK, for example, energy supplies.”
Lord Frost has said the UK is looking at the EU proposals “constructively” and warned there is a “long way to go”.
Lord Frost is set to tell his EU counterpart that there needs to be movement on the oversight of the European Court of Justice on UK affairs.
He told Politico: “They will need to if we are to find a solution, there needs to be significant change if we are to get an agreed solution.
“All I can say is the governance issue needs to be addressed seriously and if the EU are willing to have a conversation about that on which they move off existing positions obviously we will be happy to have that conversation.
Mr Sefcovic said he hoped the two sides were “in the home stretch” on discussions surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol – but pointed out a deal may not be reached until Christmas.
Speaking BBC Northern Ireland’s The View programme on Thursday night, he said: “Now we should really do the last mile, work constructively with all the proposals we put on the table, put it finally to bed.
“I believe that we could be in the home stretch with our proposals on the table, and, as I said, let’s try to solve all these issues before Christmas because I think that would be the best Christmas gift we can give to the people of Northern Ireland.”
He added: “I have no mandate to renegotiate the protocol… the Withdrawal Agreement, protocol and trade and co-operation agreement, we signed it, we ratified it, it’s international law, and I think we should respect it.”