Trade deal at risk as EU says UK must honor Brexit agreement
Prospects of a trade deal between Britain and the European Union appeared to dim on Wednesday, with the EU saying that even the smallest UK breach of the Brexit withdrawal treaty would undermine what little trust is left between the two sides.
The warning came as Britain pushed ahead with legislation that it admits breaks international law by overriding parts of the legally binding withdrawal agreement that both Britain and the EU signed up to.
“Breaking international law is not acceptable and does not create the confidence we need to build our future relationship,” said EU Council President Charles Michel.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the age-old diplomatic cornerstone of “agreements must be kept” was “the foundation of prosperous future relations”.
Germany hoped Britain would pull back from the brink, but France, the bloc’s other economic and political powerhouse, was scathing.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said that “we are ready to negotiate in good faith but to do that, we need to be two and so we are waiting for an interlocutor of good faith”.
Britain left the political structures of the EU on January 31 and will make an economic break when an 11-month transition period ends on December 31.
The two sides are trying to strike a new trade deal by then, but talks have bogged down.
The UK government says its Internal Market Bill is a “safety net” designed to prevent disruption to internal UK trade in the event that there is no agreement by the end of the year.
The withdrawal agreement includes measures to ensure there are no barriers to trade or travel between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and EU member Ireland.
To do that, Britain has agreed that Northern Ireland will continue to follow some EU rules even after the rest of the UK goes it is own way.
That means there will be checks and tariffs on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, with Britain and the EU jointly deciding what goods they apply to.
The UK legislation, if passed by Parliament, will remove the EU’s power to impose checks and tariffs in the event that there is no EU-UK-agreement, giving that power instead to the British government.
The British government says trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK could undermine Northern Ireland’s place within the UK and destabilize the peace settlement that ended decades of violence.
Johnson told lawmakers on Wednesday that the legislation was needed to protect against “extreme or irrational interpretations of the (Irish) protocol that could lead to a border down the Irish Sea”.
Critics say reneging on a legally binding international commitment will trash Britain’s reputation for upholding law and order.