EU plan backfires: Boris Johnson alters withdrawal agreement in direct challenge to bloc

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The Prime Minister warned parliament the EU was jumping to “extreme or irrational interpretations” of the deal. Mr Johnson also sent his assurances the changes were to provide a “legal safety net” for the internal UK market.

The new proposed legislation was defended as being necessary to protect the Northern Ireland peace process, as the UK and EU’s negotiations over their future trading relationship look unlikely to be resolved before the end of the transition period on December 31.

The UK was growing concerned over EU threats to disrupt food exports between the UK and Northern Ireland as part of negotiations.

Sources said Britain was potentially facing being left off the “third country list” of states where food standards deemed high enough for import into the EU would cause problems in Northern Ireland.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was “very concerned” following the tabling in Parliament of the UK Internal Market Bill.

She said such actions would “undermine trust” and called on the Prime Minister to honour his past commitments.

She tweeted: “Very concerned about announcements from the British government on its intentions to breach the withdrawal Agreement.

“This would break international law and undermines trust. Pacta sunt servanda = the foundation of prosperous future relations.”

President of the European Council Charles Michel added: “Breaking international law is not acceptable and does not create the confidence we need to build our future relationship.”

Brexit trade talks are resuming today as European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic will arrive in London to meet Michael Gove for the emergency talks, along with more talks between chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost.

Ahead of the talks, a European Commission spokesman said: “The EU seeks clarifications from the UK on the full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.”

The European Commission’s chief spokesperson Eric Mamer tweeted on Wednesday: “Following today’s announcement by the UK, Maros Sefcovic will travel to London tomorrow to meet Michael Gove for an extraordinary meeting of the Joint Committee.

“The EU seeks clarifications from the UK on the full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.”

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Mr Johnson faced further backlash in the UK, as former prime minister John Major said: “For generations, Britain’s word – solemnly given – has been accepted by friend and foe. Our signature on any treaty or agreement has been sacrosanct.

“Over the last century, as our military strength has dwindled, our word has retained its power. If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained.”

France’s EU affairs minister, Clément Beaune, said his government expected Boris Johnson to keep the UK’s legal commitments over the Withdrawal Agreeemnt.

He said: “Compliance with the withdrawal agreement is not negotiable. Commitments have been made, they must be implemented.

“Among friends and allies, we must keep our word and respect the law. The European Union is committed to it, we expect it from the United Kingdom.”

A senior EU diplomat added: “A quick reading of the relevant articles of the internal market bill suggest the UK government is launching a frontal assault on the protocol and its obligations. Well beyond what was reported in the UK press.

“No effort was made to obscure the UK government’s ability to deviate from the arrangements in the Ireland protocol. It even explicitly spells out the possibility to do so. It also gives ministers the power to derogate from his own national regulations in this context.

“Notwithstanding the consequences for the negotiations this must be the absolute nadir of four years of negations by a country known as the cradle of democracy and which, from the Magna Carta onwards, has fought for the development of the rule of law in the UK and, above all, beyond. It shows once again the fragility of the rule of law.”

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