Great Britain

Brexit talks heading for ‘crisis’ as EU warns Boris Johnson to stop breaking international law or face no-deal

Brexit trade talks are facing total collapse over new plans by Boris Johnson to tear up commitments he made to the EU at the beginning of the year.

Michel Barnier, Brussels' chief negotiator, told EU ambassadors on Wednesday that the UK government was triggering a new "crisis" with just four weeks to go until a no-deal hits Channel ports.  

It comes as Downing Street pledged to overrule the House of Lords and re-insert controversial causes into its Internal Market Bill that ministers have admitted break international law.

The legislation, which would overwrite the Brexit agreement, could also be backed by similar clauses in the government's upcoming Finance Bill – a move the EU has made clear it would see as the ultimate provocation.

In a regular briefing with ambassadors from the EU27 Mr Barnier warned that the UK's approach was causing a breakdown in trust, according to Irish public broadcaster RTE.

Speaking publicly on Wednesday afternoon, Ireland's foreign minister Simon Coveney echoed similar sentiments to those of Mr Barnier, warning: "A second piece of legislation deliberately breaching withdrawal agreement and international law, will be taken as a signal that UK doesn’t want a deal."

He added that there would be no-deal if UK did not show "a basic level of trust and goodwill".

Diplomats who attended the meeting said there was little sign of major progress from Mr Barnier's briefing to ambassadors, in which he reiterated that talks were snagged on fishing rights, regulations, and governance – as they have been since February.

"He said the coming days will be decisive," one senior EU diplomat said. A much vaunted mid-November deadline is now long gone, with full ratification of any deal before Britain leaves the single market and customs union now looking highly questionable.

All EU member states and the European Parliament would have to approve the deal before 31 December, Mr Barnier is said to have told the diplomats.

The issue may yet also be discussed at a European Council summit scheduled for next week in Brussels.

Speaking in Westminster on Wednesday the prime minister’s official spokesman confirmed that when the Internal Market Bill returns to the Commons next week, it is the government’s intention to restore clauses removed by the House of Lords.

These clauses would allow the UK to override the Northern Ireland Protocol in a way which breaches international law, by banning new controls on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.

Similar clauses are also expected in the Finance Bill, though the spokesperson declined to confirm that this would also be introduced to the Commons next week.

“Our position on the clauses remains unchanged,” said the spokesman. “We set out the rationale for why we need the clauses to provide a legal safety net and protect the integrity of the United Kingdom internal market.”

The rising risk of a no-deal comes after the Commons Public Accounts Committee warned that the government simply had not done enough to prepare for the eventuality.

The National Audit Office has also said the government's approach to Brexit means there will be economic disruption at channel ports whether there is a deal or not. The government says it is preparing for all eventualities, but would like a deal. 

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