The Scotsman

John­son faces anger over Brexit deal plans

●Prime Min­is­ter de­fends With­drawal Act changes amid warn­ings from EU

- By CONOR MATCHETT Brexit · European Politics · UK News · Politics · British Politics · European Union · United Kingdom · Northern Ireland · Ireland · Nicola Sturgeon · Scottish Government · Michael Russell · Partido Unionista Democratico · Unionist Party · Great Britain · Boris Johnson · European Commission · Ursula von der Leyen · Government of the United Kingdom · Michel Barnier · Emmanuel Macron · European Council · Canada · Scottish Parliament · Louise Haigh · Gabon · Simon Coveney · Haigh

D own­ing Street has de­nied new laws that could change post-brexit cus­toms ar­range­ments with the EU would tear up the ex­ist­ing With­drawal Agree­ment.

The UK gov­ern­ment is plan­ning leg­is­la­tion that could over­ride key as­pects of the treaty signed in 2019 on the terms of the UK’S exit from the EU and fu­ture trade in North­ern Ire­land.

No 10 said it would only make “mi­nor clar­i­fi­ca­tions in ex­tremely spe­cific ar­eas” in the In­ter­nal Mar­ket Bill when it is tabled to­mor­row.

But the EU said the “full im­ple­men­ta­tion” of the With­drawal Agree­ment was a“pre­req­ui­site for then ego­ti­a­tions on the fu­ture part­ner­ship” be­tween the bloc and the UK.

First Min­is­ter Ni­cola Stur­geon said the move risked col­laps­ing trade talks with the EU and branded Con­ser­va­tive min­is­ters “char­la­tans”.

And the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s con­sti­tu­tion min­is­ter, Michael Russell, said the UK is “hurtling” towards a no-deal Brexit.

As part of the terms of the North­ern Ire­land Pro­to­col, the re­gion is ex­pected to con­tinue to fol­low some EU rules after the tran­si­tion pe­riod ends in 2021 to en­sure there is no hard bor­der – which is un­pop­u­lar with some Tory back­benchers and North­ern Ire­land’s Demo­cratic Union­ist Party.

No 10 has said it is com­mit­ted to the With­drawal Agree­ment and the North­ern Ire­land Pro­to­col, but wants to have some­thing in place to pro­tect trade across the four na­tions of the UK if an agree­ment is not reached by the dead­line of the end of the year.

The In­ter­nal Mar­ket Bill is in­tended to en­sure goods from Nor th­ern Ire­land con­tinue to have un­fet­tered ac­cess to the UK mar­ket while mak­ing clear EU state aid rules – which will con­tinue to ap­ply in Nor th­ern Ire­land – will not ap­ply in the rest of the UK.

In ad­di­tion, an amend­ment to the

Finance Bill will give min­is­ters the power to des­ig­nate which goods go­ing from Great Bri­tain to North­ern Ire­land are con­sid­ered “at risk” of en­ter­ing the EU sin­gle mar­ket and are there­fore li­able to EU tar­iffs.

Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son’s spokesman said dis­cus­sions were con­tin­u­ing with the EU to re­solve the out­stand­ing is­sues re­lat­ing to the North­ern Ire­land Pro­to­col, in­tended to en­sure there is no re­turn of a hard bor­der with the Repub­lic once the tran­si­tion is over.

He said the leg­isla­tive changes were a nec­es­sary“safety net” in the event that they were un­able to come to an agree - ment.

A UK of­fi­cial added: “If we don’t take th­ese steps we face the prospect of legal con­fu­sion at the end of the year and po­ten­tially ex­tremely dam­ag­ing de­faults, in­clud­ing tar­iffs on goods mov­ing from GB to North­ern Ire­land.”

How­ever, Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent Ur­sula von der Leyen warned there could be no back­track­ing by the UK on its pre­vi­ous com­mit­ments if it wanted to reach a free trade agree­ment.

“I trust the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment to im­ple­ment the With­drawal Agree­ment, an obli­ga­tion un­der in­ter­na­tional law and pre­req­ui­site for any fu­ture part­ner­ship,” she said.

“[The] pro­to­col on Ire­landNorth­ern Ire­land is es­sen­tial to pro­tect peace and sta­bil­ity on the is­land and in­tegrity of the sin­gle mar­ket.”

The EU’S chief ne­go­tia­tor, Michel Barnier, said he would be seek­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion about the UK’S plans.

He told French ra­dio that hon­our­ing the With­drawal Agree­ment was “a pre-con­di­tion for con­fi­dence be­tween us be­cause ev­ery­thing that has been signed in the past must be re­spected”.

Mr John­son and French pres­i­dent Emmanuel Macron “agreed on the im­por­tance of mak­ing progress this month and reach­ing a con­clu­sion on talks quickly” dur­ing a call on Mon­day, Down­ing Street said.

Mr Macron tweeted that it had been a “very good dis­cus­sion”.

Ahead of a fresh round of Brexit talks with the EU start­ing to­day, Mr John­son heaped fur­ther pres­sure on ne­go­tia­tors by say­ing that if a deal is not agreed by 15 Oc­to­ber, the date of the next Euro­pean Coun­cil, then no deal would be in­evitable.

He said: “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.

“There is still an agree­ment to be had. We will con­tinue to work hard in Septem­ber to achieve it. It is one based on our rea­son­able pro­posal for a stan­dard free trade agree­ment like the one the EU has agreed with Canada and so many oth­ers.

“Even at this late stage, if the EU are ready to re­think their cur­rent po­si­tions and agree this I will be de­lighted. But we can­not and will not com­pro­mise on the fun­da­men­tals of what it means to be an inde - pen­dent coun­try to get it.”

In re­sponse to re­ports of the UK gov­ern­ment’s plans, Ms Stur­geon tweeted :“If true, this means repu­di­a­tion by UK govt of a Treat y freely ne­go­ti­ated by it, and de­scribed by the Prime Min­is­ter as an ‘oven ready’ deal.

“This will sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease like­li­hood of no deal, and the re­sult­ing dam­age to the econ­omy will be en­tirely Tor y in­flicted. What char­la­tans.”

Mr Russell said :“The UK gov­ern­ment is now hurtling towards a dis­as­trous Brexit out­come in the midst of a deep re­ces­sion and global pan­demic.”

He added that the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment will op­pose the bill “at ev­ery turn” and warned it would “con­sol­i­date op­po­si­tion” against the UK gov­ern­ment’s plans and “alien­ate” the EU.

He said: “With the likely pub­li­ca­tion of the In­ter­nal Mar­ket Bill this week, de­signed to al­low bad trade deals to be im­posed no mat­ter the view of the Scot­tish peo­ple, we will see con­firmed the big­gest as­sault on de­vo­lu­tion since the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment was es tab­lished.

“We will, as we have made clear, op­pose it at ever y turn. In ad­di­tion, re­ports that the UK gov­ern­ment is now also plan­ning to use this leg­is­la­tion to re­nege on parts of the With­drawal Agree­ment which they will­ingly en­tered into just nine months ago, are ex­tra­or­di­nary and will not only con­sol­i­date op­po­si­tion across th­ese is­lands but will also alien­ate the Euro­pean Union, fur­ther in­creas­ing the like­li­hood of the cur­rent talks col­laps­ing.”

Ire­land’ s for­eign min­is­ter Simon Coveney tweeted: “This would be a very un­wise way to pro­ceed.”

Shadow North­ern Ire­land sec­re­tary Louise Haigh said: “It beg­gars be­lief that the gov­ern­ment is–yet again–playin ga dan­ger­ous game in North­ern Ire­land and sac­ri­fic­ing our in­ter­na­tional stand­ing at the al­tar of the Prime Min­is­ter’s in­com­pe­tence.”

“It beg­gars be­lief that the gov­ern­ment is sac­ri­fic­ing our in­ter­na­tional stand­ing at the al­tar of the Prime Min­is­ter’s in­com­pe­tence” LOUISE HAIGH

Shadow North­ern Ire­land sec­re­tary

In­ter­na­tional diplo­macy will of­ten see the de­ploy­ment of skills nor­mally used to win at cards. So whether a new UK gov­ern­ment bill will “over­ride” the With­drawal Agree­ment with the EU, as sources had sug­gested, or just “re­move am­bi­gu­ity” with some “lim­ited and rea­son­able steps”, as Down­ing Street in­sisted amid mount­ing con­cern in Europe about the re­ports, is hard to tell. Some­body is bluff­ing.

One thing, how­ever, is fairly clear. When try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate a deal with a busi­ness part­ner, if you sud­denly sug­gest you may go back on a pre­vi­ous deal, they might start to ques­tion whether you will stick to the pro­posed agree­ment.

“Con­cern” is prob­a­bly a mild way of de­scrib­ing the re­ac­tion from some quar­ters to re­ports about the UK In­ter­nal Mar­ket Bill. North­ern Ire­land’s Deputy First Min­is­ter Michelle O’neill said any back­track­ing on the With­drawal Agree­ment would be a “treach­er­ous be­trayal which would in­flict ir­re­versible harm on the all-ire­land econ­omy and the Good Fri­day Agree­ment”. Ur­sula von der Leyen, Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent, was less in­flam­ma­tory but the mes­sage was sim­i­lar. She pointed out the With­drawal Agree­ment was “an obli­ga­tion un­der in­ter­na­tional law and pre­req­ui­site for any fu­ture part­ner­ship”, adding that the parts con­cern­ing North­ern Ire­land were es­sen­tial to “pro­tect peace” and also to the “in­tegrity of the sin­gle mar­ket”.

Other coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly those in­volved in trade ne­go­ti­a­tions with the UK, may be also in­ter­ested to read the fine de­tail of the bill, to be pub­lished to­mor­row, to check whether the changes are just mi­nor house­keep­ing or whether Brexit Bri­tain re­ally is be­gin­ning its new life by go­ing back on its word and ru­in­ing its good name.

There is the pos­si­bil­ity that the bill is a rather dra­matic card in the poker game with Brus­sels, one de­signed to some­how talk them into agree­ing to a bet­ter deal than the UK might get oth­er­wise. But oth­ers, in­clud­ing Ni­cola Stur­geon, sus­pected it would only make a no-deal Brexit more likely.

In­deed, it may be the UK is not play­ing a game de­signed to se­cure a deal at all, but rather one in which vic­tory is de­fined as suc­cess­fully shift­ing the blame on to the EU for the cat­a­strophic eco­nomic dam­age a no-deal would cause.

If so, it is a game they can­not win. If the worst hap­pens, the pub­lic will know who is truly to blame.

 ??  ?? 0 Boris John­son’s new bill could change the North­ern Ire­land Pro­to­col, which is un­pop­u­lar with Ar­lene Fos­ter’s DUP
0 Boris John­son’s new bill could change the North­ern Ire­land Pro­to­col, which is un­pop­u­lar with Ar­lene Fos­ter’s DUP

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