The UK government is preparing to override parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement that is designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland, putting at risk the “peace and stability built up over decades”.
Downing Street claims the move – which will remove a hard border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest Britain – is a “back-up plan” in case no-deal is reached in Brexit negotiations with the EU.
Boris Johnson threw down the gauntlet to the EU by stating the UK and Europe must arrive at an agreement by October 15 – before news broke on Sunday of the government’s plan that will “clearly and consciously” undermine the backstop agreement for Northern Ireland.
“It’s absolutely astonishing that any government who says that they want to go and do trade deals around the world would just rip up an agreement that they made a few months ago with the European Union,” said the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
The MP for Foyle told the BBC: “They’d be risking a hard border in our country and they will be threatening the peace and stability that we have built up over decades. It would be the most reckless act in a long, long time.”
‘A very blunt instrument that breaches international law’
The Financial Times first reported the story that sections of the internal market bill “are expected to ‘eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement’ in areas including state aid and Northern Ireland customs, according to three people familiar with the plans.”
One source is quoted as describing the move as “a very blunt instrument” and added: “The [internal market] bill will explicitly say the government reserves the right to set its own regime, directly setting up UK law in opposition with obligations under the withdrawal agreement, and in full cognisance that this will breach international law.”
Clauses of the UK internal market bill – to be introduced on Wednesday – “will intentionally try to unpick parts of the withdrawal agreement signed in January,” reports the Guardian, saying this will include the special arrangements agreed for Northern Ireland “that are legally binding.”
“This would be a very unwise way to proceed,” tweeted Ireland’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney, one of the architects of the original Brexit agreement.
Johnson – no deal would be ‘a good outcome’
A government source said “the plan was part of the preparation for a no-deal exit” that would affect trade with NI and the source “accepted that the move was likely to blow up at the negotiations this week”.
Round eight of Brexit talks between the UK and EU will resume this week and Boris Johnson is set to announce today (Monday) that October 15 will be the deadline for a deal to be struck – otherwise the UK “move on”, adding that no-deal would be a “good outcome”.
Johnson will say: “As a government we are preparing, at our borders and at our ports, to be ready for it,” he will say.
“We will have full control over our laws, our rules and our fishing waters. We will have the freedom to do trade deals with every country in the world. And we will prosper mightily as a result.”
The PM’s speech follows escalating criticism of his government’s preparedness for the end of the transition with the Road Haulage Association warning that the UK is “sleepwalking into disaster” whether it manages a deal with the EU or not.