Lord Frosts Brexit masterstroke plunged into chaos– OWN ministers pull rug from under him

Andrew Marr grills Šefčovič on Lord Frost's proposals

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International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has today said Britain is unlikely to trigger Article 16 before Christmas. Her remarks echo similar comments made by Michael Gove last week.

The claims are at odds with Lord Frost’s negotiating strategy, with the Brexit minister insisting the ultimatum could be triggered at any point.

Ms Trevelyan told The Telegraph: “I don’t think anyone’s calling Article 16 before Christmas, absolutely not.”

She added that the Brexit minister and his counterparts “will plod on doing the work that negotiators do”.

On Friday, Mr Gove said he was “confident” Article 16 would not be triggered.

The UK and the EU negotiating teams are holding intense discussions to solve the impasse on post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland.

Britain has accused Brussels of being overly strict in its implementation of the Protocol, undermining the UK’s internal market with heavy-handed customs checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea to the province.

Last week Lord Frost admitted “there is the potential to generate some momentum in our discussions” but that “significant gaps remain across most issues”.

He warned if the EU fails to give ground to UK demands to ease frictions in trade, he will take unilateral action to suspend the Protocol’s implementation. 

Following a meeting with the European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic on Friday, he said: “We remain prepared to use the safeguard provisions under Article 16, which are a legitimate recourse under the Protocol in order for the Government to meet its responsibilities to the people of Northern Ireland.”

The comments from Ms Trevelyan and Mr Gove are in stark contrast to those by the man tasked with finding a more permanent solution for the Protocol.

Addressing a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference in October, Lord Frost said it was vital to keep the EU guessing in talks.

He said: “Keeping the other side on the hop is an important part of that.

“Uncertainty about how people are going to react, how we’re going to react.”

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The missed messages now coming from the Government risk undermining attempts to persuade the EU that Britain is serious about following through on its threats.

It is thought last week the European Commission briefed ambassadors the UK has temporarily ditched its threat of triggering Article 16.

Ambassadors were also told the UK appeared more willing to engage in talks following Brussels’ attempts to find a way through the stalemate.

Today Downing Street sought to keep up the idea that Article 16 could be triggered at any point.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman rejected suggestions it would not happen before Christmas, insisting there was no timetable over the potential use of the power.

He said: “I’m not going to put a timetable on it.

“We continue to believe that the conditions for triggering that safety mechanism of Article 16 have been met, that remains the Government position but we will continue to look for a consensual negotiated solution.”

Lord Frost will meet Mr Sefcovic to continue talks in London later this week.

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