Suspending post-Brexit arrangements for Irish Sea trade would have “profound and deeply damaging consequences” for every part of the UK, Nicola Sturgeon has warned.
Scotland’s First Minister welcomed comments from Cabinet minister Michael Gove in Cardiff on Friday when he expressed confidence that negotiations with the EU over the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol could progress without the Government having to suspend that part of the Brexit deal.
The Government has repeatedly warned it will move to suspend parts of the protocol, through the unilateral triggering of the Article 16 mechanism, if ongoing talks with the European Commission do not result in an agreed resolution to the stand-off over disruption caused by the new Irish Sea trade barriers.
Sturgeon said Gove’s remarks suggest the UK is now focused on striking a deal.
She said any temptation to “stoke tensions” in the hope it might “play well with domestic audiences” must be resisted.
“I welcome Michael Gove’s language today that there is now a focus on getting a resolution,” said the First Minister, who was attending the British-Irish Council summit in Cardiff along with Gove.
“For my part, I think that there are credible and serious proposals on the table, and if there is a political will and a desire to find agreement, that should be possible.
“Triggering Article 16 – and this is where I particularly welcome Michael Gove’s language, saying that he hopes that will not be necessary – I think that would be one of the most irresponsible things that can be done right now in the face of Covid and the other Brexit implications that are being felt across all parts of the UK.
“I hope we can see these immediate tensions resolved and then opening the way to what should always be the case – a very close and constructive and friendly relationship between the UK and the European Union.
“The triggering of Article 16 would have profound and deeply damaging consequences for every part of the UK.
“I think that would be the case at any time, but particularly now when we’re already dealing with Brexit disruption and all of us are trying to deal with and look ahead to the recovery from Covid.
“It is disruption that nobody needs and nobody should be contemplating.
“I believe it would be wrong and also, crucially, I think it’s unnecessary. I think there is a will to find an agreement and the broad proposals to find it exist.”
Sturgeon said a bad relationship between the EU and UK would have “very real” consequences.
“This is not an abstract political debate, the consequences will be felt, in particular, by businesses and individuals the length and breadth of the UK,” she said.
“This is about people’s livelihoods, about standards of living, the ability to trade and keep food on our supermarket shelves. This is real. It’s not politics and I think it’s important to say that.”