FORMER Brussels chief Jean-Claude Juncker said Brexit talks were likely to collapse without an agreement after a furious trade row broke out.
As tempers dramatically flared, he claimed wrangling over the future relationship pact were not heading in a positive direction. Mr Juncker’s warning came after it emerged Boris Johnson would break international law in order to ensure a smooth split from Brussels. Michel Barnier is said to be prepared to walk out on the negotiations if the Prime Minister undermines the Brexit divorce deal he signed with the bloc last year.
Ahead of the showdown talks, Mr Juncker said: “The situation is not developing in the best direction possible.
“No deal is the most possible and probable and only outcome of the negotiations.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis sparked fury in Europe when he said the Government’s Internal Market Bill would go against the EU Withdrawal Agreement in a “specific and limited way”.
An enraged European diplomat warned trade talks between the EU and UK would collapse if Downing Street followed through with the move.
“If true, it would be a massive blow to the UK’s international reputation and have huge negative consequences on the current talks with the EU,” the source said.
“It would be in Britain’s best interest to clarify its plans now urgently and assure the EU that it will continue to honour its commitments under the Withdrawal Agreement under all circumstances.
“If the UK chose not to respect its international obligations, it would undermine its international standing.
“Who would want to agree trade deals with a country that doesn’t implement international treaties? It would ultimately be a self-defeating strategy.”
Former EU Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt branded the Government’s strategy to ensure a clean break from Brussels as “astonishing”.
The Belgian MEP also praised former prime minister Theresa May’s criticism of the plan as “spot on”.
Mrs May was joined by a host of MPs from across the House of Commons in attacking the government.
She fumed: “The United Kingdom Government signed the withdrawal agreement with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“This Parliament voted for the withdrawal agreement into UK legislation. The Government is now changing the operation of that agreement.”
Sir Bob Neil, chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, said: “Any breach, or potential breach, of the international legal obligations we have entered into is unacceptable regardless of whether it’s in a ‘specific’ or ‘limited way’.”
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said she was “astounded” by the minister’s comments.
“The rule of law keeps us safe, defends our national interest, and allows us to hold others to account. They are diminishing us on the world stage,” she said.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “What the Government is proposing is wrong, I think that’s plain for everybody to see.”
Lib Dem Northern Ireland spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “The UK Government should focus on making laws, not breaking laws.”
Whitehall officials insisted the changes were needed to prevent “unforeseen” and “harmful” legal consequences when the UK quits the EU’s single market and customs union.
The Internal Market Bill has been drafted to ensure goods can move freely without tariffs around the four parts of the UK after the post-Brexit transition period expires at the end of the year.
One Whitehall source said: “The UK is completely committed to the international law system.”