Johnson plans to override parts of Brexit agreementEuropost
British PM Boris Johnson is drawing up legislation that will override the Brexit withdrawal agreement on Northern Ireland, a move that threatens the collapse of crunch talks which the prime minister has said must be completed within five weeks British media reported. Johnson will put an ultimatum to negotiators this week, saying the UK and Europe must agree a post-Brexit trade deal by 15 October or Britain will walk away for good.
But progress on the already fragile talks will be threatened by plans revealed on Sunday for the UK government to publish a controversial section of the internal market bill on Wednesday that will intentionally try to unpick parts of the withdrawal agreement signed in January. It will include elements of the special arrangements for Northern Ireland that are legally binding.
A UK government source told the Guardian the plan was part of the preparation for a no-deal exit that would present a number of new barriers to trade from Northern Ireland – and accepted that the move was likely to blow up at the negotiations this week. Labour said the prime minister was “threatening to renege on the UK’s legal obligations” and called it “an act of immense bad faith: one that would be viewed dimly by future trading partners and allies around the world”.
The news was condemned by Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, Simon Coveney, who helped broker the original Brexit settlement. He said any change would be “very unwise”. The move would row back parts of the UK’s agreement with the EU on state aid and customs arrangements for Northern Ireland. It is understood that the UK government believes the original protocol is drafted ambiguously enough to allow for a change of interpretation – a view likely to be fiercely contested by Brussels.
A government spokesperson said it was hopeful that a deal could still be reached. “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.” Key figures close to the negotiations have already warned that EU leaders and heads of state must intervene before the end of the month to save the talks from collapse.
On Monday, the prime minister will set a firm deadline of 15 October – the date of the European council – for a deal to be signed, with the mood bleak as formal talks resume this week between the UK’s lead negotiator, David Frost, and the EU’s Michel Barnier. If no agreement is reached before the deadline, the UK will “move on” and accept that a deal cannot be struck, Johnson will say, adding that no deal would be a “good outcome”.