UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has threatened to tear the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement unless the EU signs up to a free trade deal by the middle of next month. In a recent development for the entire process, the UK is planning legislation which would effectively dump a crucial part of the original deal relating to Northern Ireland.
The internal market bill will be published on Wednesday, and it will “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement” in areas related to state aid and Northern Ireland customs, the Financial Times has said. Mr Johnson has thrown down the gauntlet by imposing a deadline of October 15 to strike a deal with the bloc.
The Prime Minister will argue there is no point thinking about timelines beyond that date. He will add: “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.”
Britain left the EU on January 31 but talks aimed at reaching a new trade deal before the end of the transition period on December 31 have so far hit snags on state aid rules and fishing.
Without a deal, more than £750billion in trade between Britain and the EU could be thrown into uncertainty with rules over everything from car parts and medicines to fruit and data.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, described the Northern Ireland protocol as being “critical for single-market integrity” – while declining to comment on the FT’s report specifically.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there will not be shortages of drugs or medical equipment due to Brexit.
When asked on LBC if the health of the nation will be “detrimentally affected” by how the UK leaves the EU, he said: “We already have a deal, the question is whether we can land a long-term future trade agreement.”
When asked directly if people will still get the drugs and medical equipment they need, Mr Hancock said: “I am comfortable we have done the work that’s needed.”
Responding to the latest reports, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage tweeted: “The ‘oven-ready’ deal last year was not Brexit and we said so, I am pleased that we are tearing it up.”
9.15 am update: No customs checks insists Eustice
Mr Eustice did not comment specifically on whether Downing Street had predicted a 30-40 per cent chance of securing a new deal.
He added that although there would be no customs checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, there may be some administrative processes for goods transiting through.
9.38 am update: Northern Ireland politician warns of “catastrophic consequences”
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said there would be “catastrophic consequences” should Westminster ministers override the Withdrawal Agreement.
After Steve Aiken, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, called on people to “await the actual proposed legislation” before making a judgment, Ms Long responded: “Let’s not.
“Let’s make it clear right now where we stand and the catastrophic consequences of such action now, while there is a chance of influencing how this unfolds,” she tweeted.
“At the very least, if they proceed, they can’t claim the damage it will bring in its wake was not anticipated.”
9.10 am update: EU “in denial”, says Eustice
George Eustice did not confirm that no-deal was back on the table, and said that the European Union appeared to be in denial about the UK’s desire to become an independent country.
He told BBC Breakfast: “The Prime Minister has been clear, we’re not after anything exceptional or special really.”
“We understand the EU’s position on these things but we do think an agreement along the lines of the agreement the EU has with Canada, a fairly standard but quite ambitious free trade agreement is something worth doing and we stand ready to do that.
“You will have noticed the European Union have been reluctant to engage on that basis and appear to be somewhat in denial about the fact that we do genuinely want to be an independent country so those negotiations have not been easy.
8.59 am update: Eustice quizzed on “oven-ready” deal
Responding to questions about whether Boris Johnson’s deal was not “oven-ready”, something the Prime Minister has stated many times previously, George Eustice admitted that some “finer points” still needed to be resolved.
He said: “The deal was always very clear, it had the Northern Ireland protocol, it set out the arrangements that would prevent the need for any checks along the Northern Ireland border but there were also one or two finer points of detail that still had to be resolved.
“Michael Gove is leading on that for us and they’ve been working through some of these very technical issues.
“All we’re really saying is that once that process is concluded there may still be one or two loose ends and we just need the ability to give people the certainty they need to legislate to give that clarity – that’s all this is about.”
8.55 am update: Government not posturing, insists Eustice
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Government was not “posturing” or threatening the European Union, following reports that the Government is planning to propose a five-week deadline to accept new trade terms in the Brexit negotiations.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Eustice said that there may still be “one or two loose ends” once the process was concluded, but that the Government was still positive in seeking a “fairly standard” trade agreement.
He said: “The Prime Minister has been very clear since he was elected with a very clear mandate to leave that we would leave at the end of the transition period with or without a negotiated settlement.
“We said that we would work night and day to try to get that Canada-style trade deal that we seek but if the European Union wouldn’t offer that, that we would still leave on time and we would do that under the terms of the existing Withdrawal Agreement that we’ve got.
“It’s not posturing or a threat, this has been the reality of our position right from the beginning.”
8.48 am update: Boris wants “best of both worlds”, claims Barnier
The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Monday that negotiations on future relations were difficult and declined to comment on a report Britain was planning legislation to override parts of the divorce deal.
Mr Barnier told France Inter radio: “We demand quite simply, and calmly, and until the end, that the political commitments in the text agreed by (British Prime Minister) Boris Johnson be legally translated into this treaty.”
If implemented, Britain’s reported move could jeopardise the pact and cause frictions in Northern Ireland.
The agreement’s Northern Ireland protocol was important to ensuring there was no physical customs border between Ireland and the province of Northern Ireland, Barnier said.
It was also, he added, “the condition of a unified and functioning economy on the island (of Ireland) as well as for respecting the integrity of the EU’s single market.”
Mr Barnier said: “I remain worried,” Mr Barnier said of the negotiations, claiming Mr Johnson’s Government wanted “the best of two worlds”.
Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheal Martin and predecessor Leo Varadkar are “extremely nervous” at the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal in place with talks set to resume this week, a former diplomat has said.
And Ray Bassett – who believes Dublin in the past had “bet on Remain and lost” – said Ireland’s troubles were summed up by the fiasco over Phil Hogan’s forced resignation as EU trade commissioner, agreeing with Mr Varadkar’s assessment it was now extremely unlikely the country would retain the influential portfolio once his successor is appointed.
UK negotiator David Frost and EU counterpart Michel Barnier are due to meet in London this week, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab calling it a “moment of reckoning.”
8.15 am update: Pound weakens on no-deal fears
London’s FTSE 100 bounced from a near four-month low on Monday as the pound weakened on growing prospects of the UK leaving the European Union without a trade agreement, while Primark-owner Associated British Foods jumped on issuing a strong forecast.
The export-heavy FTSE 100, which generally moves in the opposite direction to the pound, was up 0.8 per cent after ending Friday with its biggest two-day slide in nearly a month following a tech-led plunge on Wall Street.
Healthcare and financial firms were among the boosts to the FTSE 100 in early trading, while the domestically-focussed FTSE 250 rose for the first time in three sessions, up 0.7 per cent.
8.10 am update: Blackford warns of dangers of “devastating” hard Brexit
A “hard Brexit” would be “devastating” for Scotland, the SNP has said.
The party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said in a statement: “Boris Johnson’s reckless plans for the hardest of Brexits would be devastating for Scotland, causing lasting damage to Scottish jobs and the economy in the middle of a pandemic.
“By threatening to undermine the UK’s international treaty obligations and impose a catastrophic no-deal Brexit on Scotland against our will, the Prime Minister is proving he cannot be trusted and is underlining the need for Scotland to become an independent country.
“Scotland has been completely ignored by Westminster throughout the Brexit process. It is increasingly clear that the UK will now be leaving the EU with either a very bad deal or no deal at all – either of which would be a disaster for Scotland.
“With the Tories hardening their Brexit plans and threatening Scotland with a power grab, it is clearer than ever that the only way to protect Scotland’s economic interests and our place in Europe is to become an independent country.”
Michel Barnier has warned he is “worried” for the fate of the post-Brexit trade talks ahead of this week’s make-or-break negotiating round in London.
The Brussels diplomat hit out at his British counterpart for trying to secure a “best of both worlds” divorce from the bloc.
The Frenchman said: “I remain worried. The negotiations are difficult, because the British want the best of both worlds.
“We did not go to bed, in the end the interests of the EU are respected.”
7.52 am update: Government “considering fall back options”, says spokeswoman
Approached about the reports, a Government spokeswoman said it was working to “protect Northern Ireland’s place in our United Kingdom”.
She said: “We are working hard to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol through the Joint Committee and will continue to approach these discussions in good faith.
“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.”
7.50 am: Pulling plug on WA would effectively torpedo hopes of a deal, warn eurocrats
AN EU diplomat suggested the UK would regret reneging commitments enshrined in the Withdrawal Agreement.
The official said: “‘Pacta sunt servanda’ meaning ‘agreements must be kept’ is a fundamental principle in international law.
“If the UK chose not to respect its international obligations, it would undermine its international standing.
“Who would want to agree trade deals with a country that doesn’t implement international treaties?”
Another EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Without correct implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, I cannot imagine the EU would conclude a treaty with a country that does not abide by its treaty commitments.”
7.45 am update: “Not so oven-ready after all,” says Labour’s Ashworth
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Boris Johnson, I thought, told us he had an oven-ready deal. And, he fought a general election telling us he had an oven-ready deal, now suggests that he was misleading people in that general election.
“And Parliament supported the Withdrawal Agreement earlier on this year. He has made promises and signed a treaty around these arrangements for Northern Ireland, and he now seems to be backing out of that.
“I think people will be very surprised that when he promised us an oven-ready deal, it now looks like he’s pushing us towards no deal at a time when we are in recession, at a time when many fear for their jobs, at a time when the furlough scheme is coming to an end.
“We should be putting in place measures to grow our economy, not do further damage to our economy.”
7.43 am update: Eustice downplays Withdrawal Agreement claims
A senior British minister on Monday played down planned legislation that could override the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, saying the goal posts were not being changed but that some ambiguities needed to be tidied up.
Asked about a report in the Financial Times, Environment Secretary George Eustice said there moght be some minor legal ambiguities that need to be tidied up over the Northern Irish protocol.
He said the UK was committed to the Northern Ireland protocol and that London was not moving the goal posts.
7.36 am update: “Self-defeating strategy”
If the UK presses ahead with the plan being widely reported today, it will be a self-defeating strategy, a Brussels insider has said.
Katya Adler, the BBC’s European Correspondent, tweeted: “Senior EU diplomat from country traditionally close to UK: ‘If UK domestic legislation undermines international treaty recently signed by UK+EU, this isnt only a trust orcredibility issue, it could cause trade negotiations to unravel. It wld be a self-defeating strategy by the UK”
7.29 am update: Coveney said dumping WA would be “very unwise”
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who played a key role in negotiating the withdrawal agreement and Northern Ireland protocol, said on Twitter that the reported move “would be a very unwise way to proceed.”
Senior members of Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein and SDLP parties, the region’s two largest Irish nationalist groups, also criticised the British government’s plan, as reported by the newspaper.