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Some progress on the Irish border. Michael Gove, who helped negotiate Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal, today said he is “confident” headway can be made with the European Union over the Northern Ireland Protocol without triggering Article 16.

Following reports Brussels is willing to suspend parts of the agreement and slash customs paperwork to end the trading impasse, Gove said a “constructive approach” was being taken by both sides at the British-Irish Council summit in Cardiff.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin echoed Gove’s comments and said there is “a common desire” from all parties “to get these issues revolved through negotiation”.

Lord Frost – Downing Street’s Brexit foreman, who has been in talks with EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič – said there is potential to generate some momentum.

But in a statement Frost also warned that significant gaps remain: “We have not yet made substantive progress on the fundamental customs and SPS issues”.


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He added: “If no such solution can be found, 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”.

Triggering Article 16 could start a trade war between Britain and the EU. Frost has taken a tough line, but in recent weeks there has been a softening of language. The EU has made concessions and the British government has had a bruising time in the House of Commons on sleaze. Tory MPs of all stripes are angry with the government’s handling of domestic affairs. It is questionable whether they are in the mood for a trade war. There’s scope on both sides for de-escalation to lead to a resolution.