EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the breach of the Withdrawal Agreement would break international law.
Updated Wed 10:19 PM
THE UK GOVERNMENT has published proposed legislation that would, if passed into law, unpick key parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in a move that has provoked sharp criticism in Ireland, Europe and the US.
The controversial bill, which Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis admitted yesterday would breach international law, was published this afternoon amid concerns from EU leaders about the UK’s approach to the final weeks of negotiations.
The wide-ranging bill, published this afternoon, includes provisions that would allow the Northern Ireland Secretary of State to ‘disapply’ or change rules on state aid that would circumvent EU regulations in Northern Ireland and the UK.
Through provisions handing the UK government an array of powers that could apparently be used to set aside EU law and European Court of Justice case law on state aid – a key source of disagreement between the two sides – the UK has attracted fierce criticism from Europe and, this evening, from the US.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin earlier expressed his “deep disappointment” in a phone call with Boris Johnson while US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi said this evening there’d be “absolutely no chance” of a US-UK trade deal passing Congress if the British government follows through.
The Northern Ireland Protocol, agreed between the UK and the EU last year, would see many EU customs rules be applied in the North in a bid to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland – effectively creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea.
Many of the crucial elements of the bill are an attempt to reverse or undermine that position.
The bill provides UK ministers with the power to make regulations about customs exit declarations, specifically giving them the power to ignore rights and obligations that would arise under the Withdrawal Agreement.
Legal experts have already pointed to a range of scenarios in which, if passed into law by the UK parliament, the legislation would breach the agreement between the UK and the EU.
This afternoon, President of the European Council Charles Michel tweeted: “The Withdrawal agreement was concluded and ratified by both sides, it has to be applied in full.”
“Breaking international law is not acceptable and does not create the confidence we need to build our future relationship,” he added.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also said she is very concerned about announcements from the British government on its intentions to breach the Withdrawal Agreement.
“This would break international law and undermines trust. Pacta sunt servanda = the foundation of prosperous future relations,” she tweeted.
Speaking to reporters earlier, EU vice president Maros Sefcovic said:
“I will call for an extraordinary joint committee on the withdrawal agreement to be held as soon as possible so that our UK partners elaborate and respond to our strong concerns on the bill.”
Sefcovic is now due to travel to London to meet senior Tory minister Michael Gove as the EU seeks clarifications from the British government on how it plans to proceed.
This evening, senior US Democrat Pelosi said: “Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday Agreement, including the stability brought by the invisible and frictionless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.
“The UK must respect the Northern Ireland Protocol as signed with the EU to ensure the free flow of goods across the border.
“If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill would preserve jobs and peace in Northern Ireland, as well as allowing unfettered trade between Northern Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales.
Good Friday Agreement
Boris Johnson spoke to Táoiseach Micheál Martin this evening following the publication of the bill amid concerns about what it could mean for Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement.
A spokesperson for the UK prime minister defended the bill this afternoon, saying the deal reached in 2019 was written “at pace” in “the most challenging” circumstances.
“The Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol aren’t like any other treaty.
“It was agreed at pace in the most challenging possible political circumstances to deliver on a clear political decision by the British people with the clear overriding purpose of protecting the special circumstances of Northern Ireland,” the spokesperson said.
No news is bad news
Support The Journal
Your contributions will help us continue
to deliver the stories that are important to you
Support us now
“It contains ambiguities and in key areas there is a lack of clarity. It was written on the assumption that subsequent agreements to clarify these aspects could be reached between us and the EU on the details and that may yet be possible.”
These comments were criticised by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who condemned the approach taken by the UK government.
“In the General Election it was, according to the PM ‘oven ready’ – now, when they want to jettison it in breach of international law, it was ‘signed in a rush’. What a bunch of incompetent and unscrupulous chancers – and they are trashing the UK’s international reputation,” she tweeted.
With reporting by Press Association, Sean Murray