The pound has grown stronger against both the US dollar and the euro, due to a weaker US dollar following a drop in US consumer sentiment in November and sliding US Treasury bond yields. The positive sentiment in the financial markets helped boost the pound and weaken the safe-haven US dollar, but hawkish Fed expectations will likely limit the greenback’s losses.

Apart from this, the possibility of Britain triggering Article 16 and suspending parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol could push the British pound lower. However, foreign exchange analysts at Barclays have said that Brexit tensions relating to the Northern Ireland protocol have not impacted on the UK currency yet, as the two sides seem to be closing in on an agreement and any major confrontation will be avoided. The EU’s lead negotiator, Maroš Šefčovič, said on Friday that a deal could be agreed this week.

Pound strength

The pound’s strength demonstrates, as analysts have suggested, that concerns about a trade war between the EU and the UK if the UK triggers Article 16 have not affected the currency market. Although some analysts believe that the pound will suffer in the event of Article 16 being triggered, others have said that the market is not so much influenced by Brexit tensions as risks of a no-deal are exaggerated. Barclays, for example, expects that a possible scenario would be a trade war or a no-deal Brexit, but both would take time to happen due to legal challenges and notice periods.

While a trade war between the UK and EU would affect the economy, this will not stop the Bank of England from raising interest rates at its December Monetary Policy Committee meeting. The Bank has lowered interest rates or kept the lower for longer in the past when sentiment regarding Brexit deteriorated. In general, if the Bank is more subdued in regards to Brexit, then the impact on Sterling will be limited.

Barclays expect a moderate escalation towards a "trade war" with economic costs to be more complex in the long term. Brexit will impact on GDP, with increased tensions and shortages, as well as decreased trade and productivity.

Triggering Article 16: An all-out trade war?

The UK has threatened to trigger Article 16, which provides a safety net in the Brexit arrangements and ensures that trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be smooth while avoiding a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected the European Union’s proposals as he wants to rewrite arrangements agreed to in years of negotiations. If the government does trigger Article 16, the worst-case outcome could be an all-out trade war.

Article 16 which is a clause in the Northern Ireland Protocol, agreed in October 2019, sets out the process for taking unilateral safeguard measures if either the EU or UK decides that the deal is leading to serious issues or a “diversion of trade.” Such safeguards will mean suspending parts of the deal. A trade war, industry leaders have pointed out, could have devastating effects on the economy, hitting British exports and disrupting supply chains. How much this will affect the currency market remains to be seen, but markets are more optimistic for the time being.

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