The UK’s controversial Internal Market Bill could potentially disrupt London’s trade talks with Brussels, EU officials have warned, as the UK acknowledges it would indeed violate the Brexit withdrawal agreement with the bloc.
The bill, which was published on Wednesday and would allow London to circumvent the withdrawal agreement with the EU – particularly when it comes to Northern Ireland’s customs regime – has raised hackles in Brussels.
European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said she was “very concerned” that the British government was intending to breach the agreement, warning that it would “break international law and undermines trust.”
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.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) September 9, 2020
Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said that talks on the future of the trade agreement between the UK and the EU would depend on whether Brussels could continue to trust London.
“For us this is of course a matter of principle,” Sefcovic told a press conference on Wednesday, adding that trust is “a must” if talks are to continue. He said he had already raised the issue with Michael Gove, the British minister in charge of preparing for a no-deal Brexit, and called for an urgent meeting.
“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,” the EU official said. Gove has so far limited himself to confirming the UK’s commitment to the withdrawal agreement’s provisions.
On Tuesday, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted that the Internal Market Bill would break international law in a “very specific and limited way” and allows London to ignore parts of the hard-fought Northern Ireland protocol.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as merely a “legal safety net” to guard against “irrational interpretations” of the agreement. The legislation will need to be debated by both houses of the parliament before coming into force.
Yet, it has already met with some resistance at home as well, with officials in Wales and Scotland arguing the bill would “steal powers from devolved administrations” and allow London to decide the fate of other parts of the UK without their consent.
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