Saturday, 19 Sep 2020

Johnson accuses EU of trying to bring in a 'blockade' in the Irish Sea

Boris Johnson accuses the EU of trying to break up the ‘territorial integrity’ of the UK with a ‘blockade’ in the Irish Sea as he calls on ministers to back his plan to tear up parts of the Brexit deal

  • Boris Johnson wants to override parts of the Brexit divorce deal agreed with EU
  • PM’s plans have sparked fury in Brussels with the bloc threatening legal action
  • EU has given PM until end of month to withdraw plans but UK does not intend to
  • A group of up to 30 Tory MPs now planing to rebel to give Parliament a veto
  • Johnson is accusing EU of trying to disrupt the ‘territorial integrity’ of the UK

Boris Johnson is accusing the EU of trying to disrupt the ‘territorial integrity’ of the United Kingdom with a ‘blockade’ in the Irish Sea.

The Prime Minister said Brussels could ‘carve up our country’ and ‘seriously endanger peace and stability’ in Northern Ireland if Conservative MPs fail to back controversial legislation to override parts of his Brexit deal.

Mr Johnson is working to quell a plan to amend the bill from senior Tories – who are incensed that it could break international law by flouting the Withdrawal Agreement.

The PM has hosted a conference call with backbenchers on Friday evening to win backing for the Bill that caused Brussels to threaten legal action – and reportedly warned senior Conservatives against going ‘back to the miserable, squabbling days of last autumn’. 

The EU has said the move is a serious breach of trust and has threatened to take legal action if Mr Johnson does not alter the UK Internal Market Bill by the end of the month.

But the Prime Minister has doubled down and argued it is ‘crucial for peace and for the Union itself’ and said voting it down would reduce the chances of a trade deal with the EU.

Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Johnson said: ‘We are now hearing that unless we agree to the EU’s terms, the EU will use an extreme interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol to impose a full-scale trade border down the Irish sea.

‘We are being told that the EU will not only impose tariffs on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but that they might actually stop the transport of food products from GB to NI.

Tensions between the UK and the EU have increased in recent days after Boris Johnson said he intends to override parts of the Brexit divorce deal

‘I have to say that we never seriously believed that the EU would be willing to use a Treaty, negotiated in good faith, to blockade one part of the UK, to cut it off; or that they would actually threaten to destroy the economic and territorial integrity of the UK.’

PM TRIES TO DRUM UP SUPPORT FOR HIS CONTROVERSIAL BREXIT BILL AMID TORY DISQUIET 

Boris Johnson has appealed to Conservative MPs to support legislation that could breach international law in overriding parts of his Brexit deal amid concerns of a rebellion.

The Prime Minister hosted a conference call with backbenchers on Friday evening to win backing for the Bill that caused Brussels to threaten legal action.

Mr Johnson told around 250 MPs that controversial clauses in the UK Internal Market Bill are ‘necessary to stop a foreign power from breaking up our country’, and maintained there is still a good chance of getting a trade deal with the EU.

With senior Conservatives planning to amend the legislation, he was also said to have warned them against going ‘back to the miserable, squabbling days of last autumn’.

But during the call in which there were connection issues and no questions taken by Mr Johnson further fall-out emerged from the EU.

Leaders in the European Parliament said they would ‘under no circumstances ratify’ any trade deal reached if ‘UK authorities breach or threaten to breach’ the Withdrawal Agreement.

Mr Johnson appeared not to have ended the disquiet within his party during the call, with senior backbencher Sir Bob Neill saying he was not reassured by the speech.

Sir Bob, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee and is tabling an amendment to the Bill which he says would impose a ‘parliamentary lock’ on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, said he still contends it contains ‘objectionable’ elements.

‘I believe it is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward,’ he told Channel 4 News.

Downing Street insisted a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU is still possible despite an increasingly bitter war of words with Brussels.

The European Commission has given the UK until the end of the month to drop legislation enabling ministers to override provisions in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland.

Following a stormy meeting in London on Thursday, the commission warned the UK was putting trade talks at risk and said it would ‘not be shy’ of taking legal action.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman however reiterated the Government’s position that the provisions Bill remained ‘critical’ to the preservation of the Northern Ireland peace process.

He said the UK would continue to strive for an agreement and called on the EU side to show greater ‘realism’.

Amid the worsening atmosphere between London and Brussels, it emerged the EU had even raised the prospect that it could block exports of animal products from the UK once the current Brexit transition period comes to a close at the end of the year.

In a statement following the latest round of talks on Thursday, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there were ‘many uncertainties’ about the UK’s animal hygiene regime.

He said ‘more clarity’ was needed if Britain was to receive the ‘third-country listing’ entitling it to export animal products to the EU.

On the British side, there was surprise at the comments as the UK continues to apply EU standards, although it is understood the issue has been raised previously in the negotiations.

A Government spokesman said: ‘It would be very unusual for the EU to go down this route and deny the UK listing.’

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown joined fellow former prime ministers Mrs May and Sir John Major in condemning the Government’s plan, describing it as ‘a huge act of self-harm’.

‘You can’t expect to have a decent negotiation with the European Union if you start by breaking a treaty that you signed yourself and negotiated only a few weeks ago,’ he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Ireland’s Europe minister Thomas Byrne said that, far from protecting the Good Friday Agreement, the UK’s actions posed a ‘serious risk’ to the peace process.

‘It’s a totally unacceptable way to do business.

‘This was a unilateral provocative act,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

MEPs have warned that the European Parliament will block any trade deal with the UK if Boris Johnson breaches his Brexit deal.

Leaders in Brussels said the Prime Minister’s UK Internal Market Bill is a ‘serious and unacceptable breach of international law’ which puts the trade negotiations at risk.

A statement added: ‘Should the UK authorities breach – or threaten to breach – the Withdrawal Agreement, through the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill in its current form or in any other way, the European Parliament will under no circumstances ratify any agreement between the EU and the UK.’    

Tensions between Britain and Brussels have grown in recent days after Mr Johnson unveiled plans to tear up parts of the original Brexit divorce deal. 

The EU has given Mr Johnson until the end of the month to withdraw his proposals to override elements of the Withdrawal Agreement, with the bloc threatening legal action if he does not comply.

Brussels has also made clear that the future of trade talks are at risk of collapse if Mr Johnson does not perform a U-turn – but Michael Gove has vowed the Government will not be changing course. 

Mr Johnson now says that ‘in the last few weeks’ he learned his negotiators had discovered there ‘may be a serious misunderstanding about the terms’ of the Withdrawal Agreement he signed in October.

Mr Johnson argued it was agreed during ‘torrid’ days with the deadline for a deal fast approaching while ‘negotiating with one hand tied behind our back’ because Parliament blocked a no-deal.

‘If we fail to pass this Bill, or if we weaken its protections, then we will in fact reduce the chances of getting that Canada-style deal,’ he wrote,

‘Let’s remove this danger to the very fabric of the United Kingdom.

‘Let’s make the EU take their threats off the table.

‘And let’s get this Bill through, back up our negotiators, and protect our country.’

Both Ireland and the EU, however, have warned that Mr Johnson’s plans pose a serious risk to the peace process rather than protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

The Prime Minister on Friday evening held a conference call with around 250 MPs to try and drum up support for the Bill, and warned them against a return to the ‘miserable, squabbling days of last autumn’.

But during the call in which there were connection issues and no questions taken by Mr Johnson further fall-out emerged from the EU.

Leaders in the European Parliament said they would ‘under no circumstances ratify’ any trade deal reached if ‘UK authorities breach or threaten to breach’ the Withdrawal Agreement.

Mr Johnson appeared not to have ended the disquiet within his party during the call, with senior backbencher Sir Bob Neill saying he was not reassured by the speech.

Sir Bob, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee and is tabling an amendment to the Bill which he says would impose a ‘parliamentary lock’ on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, said he still contends it contains ‘objectionable’ elements.

‘I believe it is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward,’ he told Channel 4 News.

Amid the worsening atmosphere between London and Brussels, it emerged the EU had even raised the prospect that it could block exports of animal products from the UK once the current Brexit transition period comes to a close at the end of the year.

In a statement following the latest round of talks on Thursday, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there were ‘many uncertainties’ about the UK’s animal hygiene regime.

He said ‘more clarity’ was needed if Britain was to receive the ‘third-country listing’ entitling it to export animal products to the EU.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown joined fellow former prime ministers Theresa May and Sir John Major in condemning the Government’s plan, describing it as ‘a huge act of self-harm’.   

It comes after the European Union hinted it could ban UK food exports to the bloc if the two sides fail to agree a trade deal by the end of the year. 

Michel Barnier said there were still ‘many uncertainties’ on the UK’s post-Brexit standards regime and that ‘more clarity is needed’ in order for Brussels to agree to allow British exports of food and livestock to continue.  

Trade talks between the UK and Brussels remain ongoing ahead of the end of the transition period in December.  

But Mr Johnson is facing a rebellion of up to 30 Tory MPs who want to give Parliament the ability to veto any attempt by the premier to depart from the divorce accord.

The scale of the Tory backlash to his plans has prompted the PM to invite every Conservative MP to a mass private Zoom call this evening when he will answer questions in a bid to assuage rising levels of anger. 

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown today said Mr Johnson’s plans represented a ‘huge act of self harm’.

The former prime minister argued the Government’s strategy appears to be based on a belief that a ‘desperate’ EU will eventually back down but he said such a belief is ‘wrong’ and that the bloc is actually more likely to dig in. 

It comes after the European Union hinted it could ban UK food exports to the bloc if the two sides fail to agree a trade deal by the end of the year

The row over the PM’s Brexit plans came as International Trade Secretary Liz Truss announced a free trade agreement between the UK and Japan has been secured in principle.   

Ms Truss said it is Britain’s first major deal as an independent trading nation and it will increase commerce with Japan by an estimated £15.2 billion.   

In a statement issued by Mr Barnier following the conclusion of the latest round of Brexit talks yesterday, he said: ‘There are also many uncertainties about Great Britain’s sanitary and phyto-sanitary regime as from 1 January 2021. 

UK strikes first post-Brexit trade deal with Japan

Ministers have been urged to ‘redouble’ their efforts to secure a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU after the Government announced it had secured an agreement with Japan.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said it was a ‘historic moment’ for the two countries which will bring ‘new wins’ for British businesses.

But Labour said it was important to put the deal in ‘perspective’, stressing that even though the agreement was ‘welcome’, the net benefit would amount to just 0.07 per cent of UK GDP.

The agreement comes as hopes of a trade deal between the UK and EU hang in the balance after Brussels demanded the UK abandons plans to override key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry said: ‘Trade with Japan represented 2.21 per cent of our global total last year, and under the best case scenario put forward by the Government, today’s agreement will see that total increase by just 0.07 percentage points each year, simply maintaining the levels of growth seen since 2015, and preserving the forecast benefits of the current EU-Japan agreement.

‘That all compares to the 47 per cent of our global trade that we currently have with the EU.

‘So, necessary as this agreement is, the Government’s overriding priority has to be securing the oven-ready deal that they promised us with Europe, which Japanese companies like Nissan have told us is crucial to the future of the investment and jobs they bring to Britain.’

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said the deal was ‘undoubtedly a cause for celebration’ but that securing a free trade agreement with the EU ‘remains critical to the future of businesses in the UK’.

‘More clarity is needed for the EU to do the assessment for the third-country listing of the UK.’ 

The so-called ‘third-country listing’ of the UK by the EU is necessary to allow the continued export of agricultural goods.

It had been viewed as a formality that the UK would be given the listing even if no trade deal is agreed because the two sides currently have matching food standards regimes. 

Mr Barnier’s suggestion that the listing could be withheld is seen by some in Whitehall as a move by the EU to put pressure on Mr Johnson to drop his plans to move away from parts of the Withdrawal Agreement. 

A Government spokesman said: ‘The right to export is the absolute basis for a relationship between two countries that trade agricultural goods. 

‘It is a license to export and entirely separate from the issue of food standards. It would be very unusual for the EU to go down this route and deny the UK listing.’ 

It came as Mr Brown today became the third former prime minister to criticise Mr Johnson’s Brexit plans after Sir John Major and Theresa May also hit out at the current occupant of Number 10. 

The former Labour leader told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: ‘This is a huge act of self harm. We knew there was a debate over fishing and over state aid but then to explode the argument into breaking an international treaty has been condemned by so many people.

‘If I had done that when I was prime minister the Conservatives would have accused me of breaching the rule of law, they would have thrown everything at us and said ‘you cannot ignore an international treaty that you signed only a few weeks ago and you negotiated’.

‘But I think this is part of a strategy that I think is going wrong on the part of the Government.

‘They think they will have a European Council on October 16 and that they can persuade Angela Merkel to step in instead of Barnier, they think they can tie up a deal because people will be desperate.

‘I don’t think it is going to work that way because I think myself that Angela Merkel will probably be even more adamant to stick to the rule of law.’ 

Mr Brown said he feared the UK will end up with a ‘minimalist’ trade deal by the end of the transition period in December which the EU will axe if Britain fails to live up to its commitments. 

‘What I fear is actually we are going to get some sort of deal but it is a minimalist deal that will be no tariffs now but if you break the level playing field… then we will intervene as a European Union,’ he said. 

The latest row with the EU was sparked by the publication of the Government’s UK Internal Market Bill. 

The legislation, which the Government is hoping to crash through the House of Commons in the next two weeks, will enable the UK to unilaterally make decisions about key issues, like customs arrangements between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, contained within the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Brussels is adamant that the decisions must be made by a joint committee made up of people from both sides. 

The Government has admitted its proposals will break international law, prompting fury from Mr Johnson’s political opponents but also from Tory backbenchers.

Conservative MPs are now planning to try to amend the legislation in order to give Parliament a veto on any attempt by the PM to override the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Michel Barnier, pictured in London, has hinted the EU could ban UK food exports into the bloc if the two sides fail to strike a trade deal

Michel Barnier is seen arriving at St Pancras Station in London on September 11 after a round of negotiations finished between the UK Government and the EU

Sir Bob Neill, the Tory chairman of the Justice Select Committee, is tabling the amendment and reports suggest he may have the backing of up to 30 of his Conservative colleagues.  

Sir Bob told Times Radio: ‘We are not natural rebels. We’ve all served as ministers, we know that this is a serious job, and we do our best to take the job seriously. So we don’t do anything like this lightly.

‘So I hope it’s at least an indication as a Government that really, you need to think very hard and carefully about going down this route. For heaven’s sake, try and find some other way.’ 

Rebelling against Mr Johnson’s Government on Brexit has previously resulted in Tory MPs being stripped of the party whip. 

But a Government source told The Times that would not be the case if there is a rebellion on the UK Internal Market Bill. The source said ‘we’re not in the same place’ as previously on Brexit matters.  

Even if the Bill makes it through the Commons there are major question marks over whether it will survive the House of Lords where peers are furious at the plans to knowingly break international law. 

Lord Lamont of Lerwick, a former Tory chancellor and a Brexiteer, said there was ‘no way’ peers will agree to the legislation.  

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