Brexit: Johnson says Bill needed to stop ‘blockade’ in Irish Sea

British PM doubles down on plan criticised as serious breach of trust by European Union

British prime minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual press conference at Downing Street on September 9th, 2020. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty Images

British prime minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual press conference at Downing Street on September 9th, 2020. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty Images

 

British prime minister Boris Johnson has said his controversial legislation to override parts of the Brexit deal is needed to end EU threats to install a “blockade” in the Irish Sea.

Mr Johnson said Brussels could “carve up our country” and “seriously endanger peace and stability” in Northern Ireland if Conservative MPs rebel to block his Bill.

Mr Johnson is working to quell a plan to amend the legislation from senior Tories who are incensed that it could break international law by flouting the Withdrawal Agreement.

The EU criticised the plan as a serious breach of trust that jeopardises peace in Northern Ireland and has threatened legal action if ministers do not alter the UK Internal Market Bill by the end of the month.

But Mr Johnson has doubled down and argued it is “crucial for peace and for the Union itself” and said voting it down would reduce the chances of a trade deal with the EU.

Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Johnson said the EU would use an “extreme interpretation” of the Northern Ireland Protocol to impose “a full-scale trade border down the Irish sea” that could stop the transport of food from Britain to Northern Ireland.

“I have to say that we never seriously believed that the EU would be willing to use a treaty, negotiated in good faith, to blockade one part of the UK, to cut it off; or that they would actually threaten to destroy the economic and territorial integrity of the UK,” he added.

Mr Johnson said that “in the last few weeks” he learned his negotiators had discovered there “may be a serious misunderstanding about the terms” of the Withdrawal Agreement he signed in October.

He argued it was agreed during “torrid” days with the deadline for a deal fast approaching while “negotiating with one hand tied behind our back” because Parliament blocked a no-deal.

“If we fail to pass this Bill, or if we weaken its protections, then we will in fact reduce the chances of getting that Canada-style deal,” he wrote.

“Let’s remove this danger to the very fabric of the United Kingdom. Let’s make the EU take their threats off the table. And let’s get this Bill through, back up our negotiators, and protect our country.”

Both Ireland and the EU, however, have warned that Mr Johnson’s plans pose a serious risk to the peace process rather than protecting the Belfast Agreement.

The British prime minister on Friday evening held a conference call with about 250 MPs to try and drum up support for the Bill, and warned them against a return to the “miserable, squabbling days of last autumn”.

But during the call in which there were connection issues and no questions taken by Mr Johnson further fall-out emerged from the EU.

Leaders in the European Parliament said they would “under no circumstances ratify” any trade deal reached if “UK authorities breach or threaten to breach” the Withdrawal Agreement.

Mr Johnson appeared not to have ended the disquiet within his party during the call, with senior backbencher Sir Bob Neill saying he was not reassured by the speech.

Sir Bob, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee and is tabling an amendment to the Bill which he says would impose a “parliamentary lock” on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, said he still contends it contains “objectionable” elements.

“I believe it is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward,” he told Channel 4 News.

Amid the worsening atmosphere between London and Brussels, it emerged the EU had even raised the prospect that it could block exports of animal products from the UK once the current Brexit transition period comes to a close at the end of the year.

In a statement following the latest round of talks on Thursday, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there were “many uncertainties” about the UK’s animal hygiene regime.

He said “more clarity” was needed if Britain was to receive the “third-country listing” entitling it to export animal products to the EU.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown joined fellow former prime ministers Theresa May and Sir John Major in condemning the Government’s plan, describing it as “a huge act of self-harm”. – AP