EU rejects Boris Johnson's Brexit Bill compromise – angry French claim move 'won’t work'

European Union officials insisted the Government’s Internal Market Bill would still be in breach of international law even if MPs are offered more oversight over the legislation. The Prime Minister offered to work with Conservative backbenchers to defuse a revolt led by Commons justice committee chairman Sir Bob Neil. Under the proposed alterations to the Bill, MPs would be able to vote on whether Downing Street was allowed to tear up the Withdrawal Agreement.

But early interpretations of the plan were rejected by the bloc because the legislation still contains powers for ministers to overrule EU customs checks and state aid rules for Northern Ireland.

French Europe minister Clement Beaune angrily said: “I’m telling the British it won’t work.

“I hope this is a tactic and it will stop. It is a bad tactic. And it was demonstrated last week that we are not divided or weak.”

The compromise is not enough for the EU to withdraw its threat of legal action, insiders say.

A parliamentary “lock” is still a “no, no no”, according to one EU official familiar with the discussions in Brussels.

The bloc wants Mr Johnson to scrap the powers, “not put them in an ‘emergency use only box’ that MPs can unseal at a moment’s notice”, the source added.

European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said the EU would not continue trade talks with the UK until the legislation is scrapped.

He said: “We are concerned about the behaviour of the British Government.

“If the UK does not comply with the exit agreement, there will no longer be a bassi for a free-trade agreement between the EU and the UK.

“The UK Government must correct this before we continue to negotiate our political and economic relations.”

Despite the bloc’s threat to walk away from talks, Michel Barnier has been ordered to remain at the negotiating table.

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“We have a legal track for this under the Withdrawal Agreement – let’s take our time with it.

“We would be doing a favour to the Brexiteers by suspending the talks. So that was never actually an option.”

The bloc is concerned a collapse in talks at such a critical juncture would not give both sides enough time to “reconnect” before the end of the transition period.

Brexit LIVE: Barnier brags about uncovering Boris Johnson's plot – private meeting leaked

Amid the rising scrutiny over the Government’s handling of the crisis, Mr Barnier indicated to EU diplomats Mr Johnson was using the Internal Markets Bill to shift the focus away from the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Barnier met with officials from eight Eastern Europe countries on Monday night. The EU negotiator also told diplomats in the meeting, he believed the UK is ready for a no deal scenario. According to Politico, he also claimed a deal could still be possible. This comes as Mr Johnson is set to reach a compromise over his Brexit plans. The Prime Minister met with Tory rebels to discuss a way to proceed before the first vote on the UK Internal Market Bill on Monday. 

Although the bill has come under increased scrutiny, the legislation was passed 340 to 263 in its first reading in the Commons. 

The legislation is designed to enable the trade of goods between the devolved nations. 

It also provides the Government with the ability to change parts of the withdrawal agreement which the Prime Minister agreed in October.

The legislation has also caused shockwaves in the US, with Washington warning any future deal may now be at risk. 

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi has previously stated any risk to the peace process in Northern Ireland would hinder the chances of a US-UK trade deal. 

Four Congressman wrote: “Many in the United States and in Congress consider the issues of the Good Friday Agreement and a potential US-UK Free Trade Agreement inextricably linked.

“With the issues raised in this letter in mind, we therefore urge you to abandon any and all legally questionable and unfair efforts to flout the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement and look to ensure that Brexit negotiations do not undermine the decades of progress to bring peace to Northern Ireland and future options for the bilateral relationship between our two countries.”


7.25am update: Michel Barnier launches attack on the UK

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier has claimed the uproar over Brexit is merely a tactic to shift the focus away from the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

According to Politico, the EU negotiator told diplomats from eight Eastern European countries the Internal Market Bill, has been used as a provocation. 

He did also claim the ploy could also be an indication the UK is ready to push forward with a no deal Brexit. 

Brexit rebellion: MP resigns over Boris Johnson's controversial new EU exit plan

Rehman Chishti, who is Mr Johnson’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief and MP for Gillingham and Rainham Flag, wrote on Twitter: “I’ve written to the PM resigning as PM’s Special Envoy on FoRB.

“I can’t support Internal Market Bill in its current form, which unilaterally break UK’s legal commitments.

“As an MP for 10yrs & former Barrister, values of respecting rule of law & honouring one’s word are dear to me.”

This is a breaking story. More to follow…

Brexit LIVE: EU capitulation! Boris Johnson's secret plot to move UK negotiating red lines

BBC Europe editor Katya Adler claimed EU diplomats believe Boris Johnson is accusing Brussels of threatening the UK and jeopardising peace in Northern Ireland in a bid to persuade the Conservative Party that reaching a deal in the autumn is the best option. Founder of ExplainTrade Dmitry Grozoubinski responded to the comments and said: “This is why I hold out hope for a deal.

“If Boris Johnson moves the UKs red lines enough to give the EU legal comfort (which he has room to do), no one in Brussels will care if domestically he (once again) paints a concession as his personal heroic triumph and EU capitulation.”

This comes as the Prime Minister is attempting to push through controversial legislation, which could override parts of the Brexit deal he reached with Brussels last October.

A number of Conservative MPs are unhappy that the UK Internal Market Bill could break international law by flouting the Withdrawal Agreement.


7.45am update: Former PMs condemn Boris’s Brexit legislation

Former prime ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair have condemned Boris Johnson’s Brexit legislation as threatening the Irish peace process, trade negotiations and the UK’s integrity.

The Conservative and Labour grandees wrote in The Sunday Times: “It puts the Good Friday Agreement at risk, because it negates the predictability, political stability and legal clarity that are integral to the delicate balance between the north and south of Ireland that is at the core of the peace process.

“This has wide-ranging ramifications. It will not only make negotiation with the EU more difficult, but also any trade negotiations with other nations, including the United States. Once trust is undermined, distrust becomes prevalent.

“We both opposed Brexit. We both accept it is now happening. But this way of negotiating, with reason cast aside in pursuit of ideology and cavalier bombast posing as serious diplomacy, is irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice.

“It raises questions that go far beyond the impact on Ireland, the peace process and negotiations for a trade deal – crucial though they are. It questions the very integrity of our nation.”

7.45am update: Labour will back PM’s Brexit plan if ‘substantial concerns’ addressed

Sir Keir Starmer has said Labour will back Boris Johnson’s new Brexit legislation if the Prime Minister addresses “substantial cross-party concerns”.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the Labour leader said: “Labour is prepared to play its part in making that happen.

“If the Government fixes the substantial cross-party concerns that have been raised about the Internal Market Bill, then we are prepared to back it.

“But if they do not, and the talk collapse, then it is their failure and incompetence that will have let the British people down.”

But huge changes are understood to be necessary to win Labour’s support for the controversial legislation, which could override the Withdrawal Agreement the Prime Minister struck with the EU last October.

Johnson's Brexit bill WON'T break law – lawyer silences critics with THREE simple points

The Prime Minister’s plan to undercut parts of the Brexit divorce treaty has triggered dismay among EU bosses as negotiations for a trade agreement come down to the wire. The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales are also outraged by the UK Internal Market Bill tabled this week, accusing Mr Johnson of trying to seize power, while his own ministers have said it will breach international law.

But Martin Howe, chairman of Lawyers for Britain, said the government’s UK Internal Market Bill was “needed to maintain the free flow of trade across the nation in the post-Brexit world”.

He made his point with three simple examples to prove why the government’s clauses “will not breach international law”.

Mr Howe said the bill would allow the UK to “protect itself from abusive exercise of treaty powers” by the EU following its departure from the bloc.

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Writing for the Daily Telegraph, he said: “There is a general principle of international law that treaty powers should be exercised in good faith, and an EU blockage of reasonable ‘goods at risk’ rules under threat of using the treaty machinery to impose tariffs across the board could be classed as a bad faith exercise of treaty powers.

“The government’s clauses will allow the UK to protect itself from abusive exercise of treaty powers by the EU and are therefore a justified measure under international law.”

Senior EU figures are outraged by the proposal, which Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted would break international law in a “specific and limited way”.

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“International law does not justify a later treaty to which these community representatives are not parties being used to over-ride the rights they enjoy under the earlier treaty, especially where it involves over-riding such a fundamental right as the right to self determination of the people of NI.”

In his last point, Mr Howe said the UK would not be “undermined by domestic courts having to impose international treaties as interpreted by a foreign court”.

He said: “The EU has a long history of disregarding adverse rulings by WTO disputes bodies, for example on subsidies to Airbus.

“The UK is in a position where our law allows us to ensure that the UK’s negotiating position under international treaties is not undermined by our domestic courts having to impose international treaties as interpreted by a foreign court even where it is contrary to the foundations of our constitution.”

Mr Howe said section 38 of the Withdrawal Agreement “preserves Parliamentary sovereignty” and “makes it quite clear that Parliament has the right to pass the clauses which the government is proposing and thereby override these errant clauses in the Protocol”.

Mr Johnson has argued that the UK Internal Markets Bill tabled this week is necessary to preserve unfettered trade within the UK and prevent a border between Britain and Northern Ireland.

But he has dismayed Brussels by threatening to breach international law.

Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin called the Prime Minister to express his concerns, including “the breach of an international treaty, the absence of bilateral engagement and the serious implications for Northern Ireland”.

SNP slapped down over opposition to Boris Johnson's mass testing plans – 'Huge mistake'

Addressing SNP health spokesmand Martyn Day, Mr Hancock said: “There were in the spring some people who complained about my determination to expand testing capacities at a record pace.

“We’re hearing some of those voices this morning out again and complaining that we want to increase testing.

“Both the SNP and the Labour Party opposite are making a huge mistake in opposing mass testing.

“It’s an incredibly important tool in our arsenal.”

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Mr Day had earlier questioned Mr Hancock on the viability of Operation Moonshot after representatives from the British Medical Associaition cast doubts on the plan’s deliverability.

The SNP MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk said: “We heard the Prime Minister describe his Operation Moonshot as the ‘only hope’ of avoiding a second national lockdown.

“Already some experts have described this mass testing strategy as being fundamentally flawed.

“Does the Secretary of State think the Prime Minister is gambling on something that the experts feel cannot be delivered?”

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Boris Johnson's plan: Rapid test EVERY morning to get back to normal by Christmas

Boris Johnson held a coronavirus briefing on Thursday afternoon following a surge in COVID-19 cases in England. During the briefing Boris Johnson insisted it was important to ensure the basics were being followed to prevent a second coronavirus wave. While taking questions, the Prime Minister confirmed the Government would still be attempting to get the country back to normal by Christmas. 

To do this, Mr Johnson suggested daily coronavirus testing could be implemented to ensure the country gets coronavirus under control. 

ITV’s Robert Peston questioned what these measures would be following the Government’s announcement that groups of more than 6 people would not be allowed due to the spike in cases.

Mr Peston said: “Today we have heard you announce very significant restrictions on our ability to socialise.

“Chris Whitty has just said these restrictions are not going to just go on for weeks, more probably months.

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“Then 15 minutes later you know whether you are infectious or not.”

More to follow… 

Is Christmas cancelled? Boris Johnson's stark warning to COVID-19 rule breakers

Christmas and other significant occasions have suffered a blow with the latest coronavirus restrictions, which have reduced the number of people allowed to gether together whether indoors or outdoors. Gatherings of 30 have now reduced to a “rule of six” which could hamper people’s plans with their loved ones. 

Is Christmas cancelled? 

Speaking in the press conference today, Mr Johnson said: “Whether we are going to get things back to normal at all by Christmas, I’m still hopeful, as I’ve said before, that in many ways we could be able to get some aspects of our lives back to normal by Christmas.

“I talked just now about how you could do that. Through that Moonshot of daily testing – everybody gets a pregnancy-style test, a rapid turn-around test in the morning, 15 minutes later you know whether you are infectious of not.

“You may not know whether you are infected or not, but you know whether you are infectious, or not, and that gives you a kind of passport, a freedom to mingle with everybody else who is similarly not infectious in a way that is currently impossible.”

He added: “We are aiming for that. We are driving for that. As I have said…we cannot be 100% sure that we can deliver that in its entirety.”

He FINALLY gets it! Leo Varadkar panics as Boris Johnson's Brexit gamble hits home

Fine Gael leader Mr Varadkar – who is now deputy to current Taoiseach Micheal Martin – suggested the difficulties, which arise as a result of the UK Government’s plans to introduce legislation today which is likely to override some aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol, were “not insurmountable”. They are also indicative the Government’s realisation in respect of the precarious situation Ireland finds itself in.

Mr Varadkar also suggested Mr Johnson’s move could be “brinkmanship” aimed at forcing the EU’s hand on sticking points including fishing rights and state aid.

He also claimed the UK’s “kamikaze” strategy had backfired.

Mr Varadkar made reference to Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis’s admission that legislation overriding parts of the Withdrawal Agreement would break international law.

He said: “These were really extraordinary comments, and certainly set off alarm bells in Dublin.”

Nevertheless, Mr Varadkar told RTE radio: “I think they want a deal.”

He suggested the remaining issues “would not seem insurmountable”.

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He said: “Is this political gamesmanship or is there really a piece of legislation that’s going to emerge this week, which is contrary to the withdrawal agreement. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Ray Bassett, Ireland’s former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, told on Sunday the Irish Government was watching events across the Irish Sea anxiously.

Speaking after UK chief negotiator David Frost warned Britain was not afraid to walk away from the negotiating table, Mr Bassett said: “There must be extreme nervousness in Government circles in Dublin.

“They bet heavily on the Remainers in London and have lost the bet.

“I think nobody can be in any doubt but that the demands Barnier is making on fisheries and on the EU having control of the EU state aid in Britain are undeliverable.

“The prospects do not look good for Ireland in 2021.”

Mr Bassett, who published his new book, Ireland and the EU Post Brexit recently, fears Ireland will be increasingly marginalised in the EU after the end of the year and is an advocated of Irexit.

In his book he writes: “We need a long hard look at our EU membership and pose the question, is it worth the price?”

“The billionaire businessman, George Soros, an ardent europhile, has accepted the inevitable and predicted that unless the EU reforms it will perish.

“The pipe dreams of Emmanuel Macron and his proposals for even a more centralised EU are vanishing against the cold reality of the desire for the citizenry of EU Member States for national sovereignty.

“Those in Ireland and elsewhere who unthinkingly supposed treaty after treaty – the Single European Act, Amsterdam, Nice, Maastricht, Lisbon etc – without having the faintest idea what were in them, bear a very heavy responsibility for the sorry state Europe is in at present.

“They treated the average citizen with contempt and broke the connection between the ordinary citizen and the State.