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Brexit: UK plans to override parts of EU withdrawal deal

September 7, 2020

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce legislation that will undermine key parts of the withdrawal deal with the European Union. The United Kingdom and the EU need to reach a deal by October.

British PM Boris Johnson issuing a statement standing outside 10 Downing Street
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Rousseau

The UK government is planning legislation that will override key parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, British newspaper the Financial Times has reported.

The so-called internal market bill, due to be published Wednesday, is expected to "eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement" in areas relating to state aid and Northern Ireland customs, according to the newspaper.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who was key in negotiating the withdrawal agreement, tweeted that the reported plan would be "very unwise."

The status of the UK's only land border with the EU, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, has been one of the most difficult sticking points in negotiations.

Read moreBrexit: Europe, UK trade talks stall over 'serious differences'

'Self-defeating' strategy

The UK formally left the EU on January 31 this year, three-and-a-half years after the country narrowly voted to leave the bloc in a politically divisive referendum.

A status-quo transition period following its formal departure ends on December 31. Until then, the UK is bound by EU rules as it negotiates the terms of its future relationship with the bloc, its largest trading partner.

Environment Secretary George Eustice attempted to downplay the legislation on Monday morning, saying the UK was committed to the Northern Ireland protocol and that the internal market bill would tidy up some "legal ambiguities."

UK traders fear Brexit

But EU diplomats said any plan to override part of the divorce agreement would be a "desperate and ultimately self-defeating strategy."

"I remain worried ... the negotiations are difficult, because the British want the best of both worlds," Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, told French radio. "Everything that has been signed must be respected," he added, promising to speak to his UK counterpart, David Frost, about the plans.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for the UK to stick to the terms of the withdrawal agreement, describing it as an "obligation under international law."

Johnson confirms October 15 deadline

Prime Minister Johnson on Sunday also restated the deadline of October 15 for a free trade deal with the European Union, after which the UK would walk away from the post-Brexit negotiations if the two sides failed to reach a deal.

Read more: Scottish support for independence surges

The British leader's warning comes ahead of a crucial round of post-Brexit negotiations which are to resume in London on Tuesday.

A German government spokesman said Monday there is little time left to reach a deal, but that it was still possible. London must "make concessions" in the talks, the representative of the EU's biggest economy said.

Australia-style deal?

Johnson said that in case of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would "prosper mightily" even if it had "a trading arrangement with the EU like Australia's," which he argued would still be a "good outcome."

Australia trades with the European Union under World Trade Organization rules and tariffs.

Read moreTony Abbott's UK post-Brexit trade role sparks outrage

"As a government we are preparing, at our borders and at our ports, to be ready for it," the prime minister said. "We will have full control over our laws, our rules, and our fishing waters," he said.

"We will of course always be ready to talk to our EU friends even in these circumstances ... Our door will never be closed, and we will trade as friends and partners — but without a free trade agreement."

Johnson did not rule out a deal altogether, saying that if the EU were to rethink its current position an agreement would still be possible.

"But we cannot and will not compromise on the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country to get it," he said.

ed, adi, jsi/sri (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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