- Boris Johnson plans to rip up parts of the UK’s legally-binding Brexit deal with the EU.
- The Financial Times reported that the UK government has a contentious plan to renege on the Withdrawal Agreement agreed last year.
- The prime minister will use legislation called the Internal Market Bill to contradict key parts of the agreement pertaining to Northern Ireland, the report says.
- Johnson’s spokesman says they will pass a new UK law to “clarify specific elements” of the Brexit deal agreed last year.
- The EU warns that any attempt to renege on the withdrawal agreement will wreck any chance of agreeing a trade deal.
- Johnson on Sunday night reiterated that the UK was prepared to walk away from trade talks without a deal and trade with the EU on the harshest terms.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to overwrite key parts of the Brexit withdrawal deal he agreed with the EU last year as he insists that leaving all existing trade arrangements without a fresh deal at the end of the year would be a “good outcome” for Britain.
The Financial Times reported on Monday that the prime minister intends to “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement,” citing three sources familiar with the plan. The government will on Wednesday table legislation called Internal Market Bill which if passed would effectively overwrite sections of the Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland’s relationship with Great Britain.
Johnson’s official spokesman confirmed on Monday that the government will move to “clarify specific elements” of the deal.
“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,” the spokesman said.
UK government officials on Monday morning insisted that the Internal Market Bill, to be published on Wednesday, would contain nothing more than minor clarifications on the Northern Ireland protocol.
In practice, legislation being prepared by the government will give UK ministers the power to determine what goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are “at risk” of entering the EU and should have tariffs applied to them, and to waive exit summary declarations on goods going the other way. Critics of the move say these changes are significant changes that could undermine the entire Withdrawal Agreement. Ministers will also be able to pick and choose when to inform the EU of any state aid decisions affecting Northern Ireland’s goods market.
Under the terms of the Northern Irish protocol, while Great Britain will leave the EU’s single market and customs union at the end of the year, Northern Ireland will continue to follow the EU’s trading rules in order to avoid a controversial hard border with the Republic of Ireland. This arrangement will create new checks on goods moving both ways between Great Britain and Northern Ireland from January.
One of the sources familiar with the UK government’s plan told The Financial Times that the legislation was “a very blunt instrument.”
They said: “The bill will explicitly say the government reserves the right to set its own regime, directly setting up UK law in opposition with obligations under the withdrawal agreement, and in full cognisance that this will breach international law.”
The report has worried moderate Conservative members of Parliament, who fear that the plan would damage Britain’s international standing and undermine the union, not least by potentially bringing back a hard border on the island of Ireland.
A former minister told Business Insider it would be “a gift for the SNP” as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pushes for a new referendum on independence from the UK. Other Conservative MPs said Downing Street had been “incredibly panicky” about the Internal Market Bill in recent weeks and “going incredibly overboard” to reassure MPs of its content.
The eighth round of formal talks over a trade agreement will begin on Tuesday with the two sides aiming to overcome major differences on fishing rights and state aid before the agreed October deadline. In the absence of an agreement, the UK will trade with the EU with costly tariffs and border checks when the transition period ends on December 31.
Labour says Johnson’s Brexit plan is ‘dangerous’
Responding to the reports, the EU warned that any attempt to rip up parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement would wreck any chance of agreeing on a new future trading relationship.
“I trust the British government to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, an obligation under international law & prerequisite for any future partnership” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on Monday.
She added: “Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is essential to protect peace and stability on the island & integrity of the single market.”
Andreas Michaelis, Germany’s ambassador to the UK, on Monday morning urged the UK government to “get on with” respecting the Withdrawal Agreement in a tweet. Simon Coveney, Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs, tweeted: “This would be a very unwise way to proceed.”
A spokesperson for the opposition Labour Party said the reported plan was “so dangerous” and warned: “No British government has ever willingly pushed the union to the brink like this. You can’t talk about patriotism and then threaten the break-up of the U.K.”
The prime minister on Sunday night reiterated that he was prepared to walk away from negotiations without an agreement and trade with the EU on the harshest terms if Brussels did not shift its position on fishing and state aid.
Johnson insisted that a no-deal outcome would be a “good outcome for the UK” and that “as a Government we are preparing, at our borders and at our ports, to be ready for it.” This followed a week of reports of “critical gaps” and missed deadlines in the UK’s work to prepare Britain’s businesses and borders for the disruption of a no-deal exit.
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He said that Thursday, October 15 was the deadline for striking a deal, telling the EU: “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.”
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