The Prime Minister has defended his decision to supersede the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in The Telegraph and in a video call to MPs. The EU has voiced outrage at the decision to change the terms of the UK’s exit from the trade bloc at a late stage. It comes as the two parties entered the latest round of talks on a trade deal.
Mr Johnson, in a video call with MPs on Friday, said the changes to the Withdrawal Agreement are “absolutely vital’ to prevent the “break up of our country”.
He added the changes meant the EU were beginning to see “how serious we are” about exiting the bloc.
Speaking about the UK’s views on Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister said: “The difficulty has been that the EU has decided that unless we agree to their interpretation of what the checks would be, then the default position in the event of there being no agreement is that there should be nothing short of an economic barrier down the Irish Sea with tariffs.
“So what we need to do is clear what I think is a serious anomaly in the protocol and put a safety net under it.
“What we can’t have is the threat of a border down the Irish Sea and the threat of the breakup of the United Kingdom.”
The Prime Minister added in his The Telegraph article a Canada-style trade deal with the EU is still possible, but only if Brussels “take their threats off the table”.
In his article, Mr Johnson argued under the previous Withdrawal Agreement, the EU could impose a food blockade across the Irish Sea by refusing to grant the UK “third party” status for food exports.
Government officials close to the trade talks claim Michel Barnier has “explicitly” threatened to revoke the UK’s status for food exports.
Mr Johnson also ordered rebel Tory MPs threatening a revolt to get in line, and claimed keeping the Withdrawal Agreement as it stands would be a “disaster”.
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The Prime Minister added in his article the new UK Internal Market Bill would “sort out the inconsistencies” in the Withdrawal Agreement for Northern Ireland trade.
In response to Mr Johnson’s decision to rewrite the Withdrawal Agreement, the EU has urged the UK to pull the proposed legislation, and warned they will walk away from trade talks if the legislation is passed.
The EU has also said it is considering legal action against the UK.
Bloomberg reported a draft paper from Brussels claimed the UK Internal Market Bill represents a “clear breach” of the agreement which would “open the way to legal remedies”.
Tory MPs have also expressed anger about the new bill, with more than a dozen MPs on Friday signalling they will attempt to bar the UK Internal Market Bill from passing through parliament.
Mel Stride, a former Treasury minister, said: “When we have a minister standing up at the despatch box saying we will be prepared to break an international treaty, that is a moment when you hold your breath a bit.”
It comes as Mr Barnier has downplayed hopes of a trade deal with the UK.
Following the eighth round of talks between him and David Frost, Mr Barnier said in a press release the UK “has not engaged in a reciprocal way on fundamental EU principles and interests”.
He added: “Significant differences remain in areas of essential interest for the EU.”
The UK will officially leave the EU on January 1, with both parties wanting to finalise a deal by the end of September.