UK and EU at loggerheads as Boris Johnson 'plans to rip-up parts of Brexit Withdrawal Agreement'
Brexit negotiations with the European Union are in yet another stalemate, with Boris Johnson reportedly planning to rip-up key parts of the Withdrawal Agreement and the EU saying any future relationship depends on the UK sticking to it.
The prime minister is planning new legislation that would override state aid and Northern Ireland customs aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement – the treaty that sealed Britain’s exit from the EU in January – in a move that could risk collapsing the trade talks.
Ministers have claimed the UK is "committed" to implementing the Withdrawal Agreement, but the new legislation is being planned to "give legal clarity" if there "remains a few issues at the end of [talks]".
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission said the Withdrawal Agreement is a "prerequisite for any future partnership" and suggested there will be no trade deal if the UK does not stick to its side of it.
In response to reports that some aspects of the agreement could be ignored, Ms von der Leyen tweeted: "I trust the British government to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, an obligation under international law & prerequisite for any future partnership.
"Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is essential to protect peace and stability on the island & integrity of the single market."
It is being reported by the Financial Times that the new legislation - named the Internal Market Bill, due to be published on Wednesday - will “eliminate” the legal force of the Withdrawal Agreement in areas including state aid and Northern Ireland customs.
The Northern Ireland protocol aims to avoid the introduction of a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit.
As part of its terms, the region is expected to continue to follow some EU rules after the transition period ends in 2021 to ensure there is no hard border – a resolution some Brexiteers were angry about when initially revealed.
A Number 10 spokesman said the Joint Committee - a group of EU and UK negotiators debating the remaining areas of contention in the Withdrawal - will continue to work at resolving outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
"However," the spokesman said, "as a responsible Government, we cannot allow the peace process or the UK’s internal market to inadvertently be compromised by unintended consequences of the protocol".
The spokesman added: "We are taking limited and reasonable steps to clarify specific elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol in domestic law to remove any ambiguity and to ensure the government is always able to deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.
"These limited clarifications deliver on the commitments the Government made in the General Election manifesto, which said: 'We will ensure that Northern Ireland’s businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of the UK and that in the implementation of our Brexit deal, we maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market'.”
The Government says it is legislating to allow UK ministers to decide which goods from GB to NI are “at risk” of entering the EU if the Joint Committee has not reached agreement on them by January.
Earlier, a spokesman said: “As a responsible government, we are considering fall back options in the event this is not achieved to ensure the communities of Northern Ireland are protected.”
Negotiations by the Joint Committee take place between Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove, and EU Commission Vice President, Maroš Šefčovič.
Negotiations on a trade deal take place between UK chief negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the government remains "committed" to the Withdrawal Agreement and other arrangements contained within it, but added how both sides recognised, when it was signed, that the deal had a "few loose ends".
"If there remains a few issues at the end of [talks] obviously we need to legislate to provide people with the legal certainty and clarity they need," he said.
The minister, while admitting that talks had been difficult, said a deal was still "possible" but insisted "in the absence of an agreement we will leave without fail".
The suggestion that ministers could possibly undermine an international treaty and use Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip has caused uproar among key figures in Ireland and mainland Europe.
Ireland foreign minister Simon Coveney, an influential player in the formation of the Withdrawal Agreement, tweeted: “This would be a very unwise way to proceed.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth criticised Boris Johnson for “shenanigans” that are posing serious risks for the economy.
“Boris Johnson promised us, he told us he had an oven-ready deal,” he said.
“That’s why we had a general election last year and indeed he won that general election, he was given a great majority to deliver his oven-ready deal.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth slams Boris Johnson 'shenanigans'
“Parliament endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and endorsed the Northern Ireland arrangements that he proposed.
“The consequence of these shenanigans is that he’s pushing the country to a no-deal scenario.”
He said that the priority during a recession should be to “protect jobs and livelihoods”, especially in a time when “there are great fears for unemployment”.
“I think this is very, very dangerous for the economy and puts jobs and livelihoods at risk,” he added.
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said: “It beggars belief that the Government is – yet again – playing a dangerous game in Northern Ireland and sacrificing our international standing at the altar of the Prime Minister’s incompetence.”
“He is now saying, apparently, that he wants to unpick that, having signed a treaty, having signed a commitment with Europe on that - but also having told the British people in a general election he had an oven-ready deal.
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Mr Johnson also plans to give Brussels a five-week deadline to agree fresh trade terms or otherwise call for both sides to “accept” no-deal and spend the rest of the year minimising the extent of the disruption from the fallout.
He is expected to say on Monday that collapsing the trade talks, should there be no agreement by the October 15 European Council, would still be a “good outcome for the UK”, allowing the country to “prosper mightily”.
Political Correspondent Paul Brand believes the PM has set a hard deadline of October 15 and there is not point of negotiating beyond that
He will make clear that the UK will not budge, telling his counterparts in Brussels the Government “cannot and will not compromise on the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country”, and will look to turn attention to preparing for no-deal.
The Prime Minister is expected to say: “We are now entering the final phase of our negotiations with the EU.
“The EU have been very clear about the timetable. I am too. There needs to be an agreement with our European friends by the time of the European Council on October 15 if it’s going to be in force by the end of the year.
“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on.”