Senior politicians across the European Union hit out at Boris Johnson’s move to water down trade checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The Prime Minister was accused of running roughshod over the EU Withdrawal Agreement he concluded with Brussels last year. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis conceded the Government’s Internal Market Bill would go against the treaty in a “specific and limited way”.
He told MPs: “Yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way.
“We are taking the power to dis-apply the EU concept of direct effect required by Article 4 in certain, very tightly defined circumstances.”
Angry Euro politicians insisted the move would diminish Britain’s standing on the world stage and undermine the future relationship talks with Brussels.
Nathalie Loiseau, a former French Europe minister, said: “You don’t ‘break international law in a specific and limited way’. You do break it or you don’t.
“You can’t be half illegal, as you can’t be half pregnant.”
Former EU Parliament Brexit Coordinator Guy Verhofstadt branded the Government’s strategy to ensure a clean break from Brussels as “astonishing”.
The Belgian MEP also praised former prime minister Theresa May’s criticism of the plan as “spot on”.
Irish MP Neale Richmond fumed: “Is it OK if someone steals a car or robs a bank in a very specific and limited way? No, it is not.
“International agreements or treaties cannot be overridden by domestic legislation and this answer by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is at best worrying and cannot go unchallenged. We need immediate clarity on this.
“Does the UK Government intend to break part of a Treaty it negotiated and voted for. Specific and limited doesn’t matter.”
Dacian Ciolos, leader of the European liberals, said: “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson the UK is close to losing its international credibility.
“The Withdrawal Agreement has been signed. It must be respected.”
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On Mrs May’s intervention, he added: “Good that a former UK prime minister reminds the current one of this crucial reality.”
Norbert Rottgen, chair of the German parliament’s influential foreign affairs committee, added: “Avoiding a hard border on the Irish island has been a crucial part of the Brexit negotiations.
“Johnson’s go it alone attempt with the Internal Market Bill would undermine any trust left in the process. But for post-Brexit we need trust and more, not less, cooperation.”
A European source claimed Mr Johnson’s plan to break international law to ensure a smooth split with Brussels will have “huge negative consequences” for the Brexit trade talks.
“If true, it would be a massive blow to the UK’s international reputation and have huge negative consequences on the current talks with the EU,” the EU diplomat said.
“It would be in Britain’s best interest to clarify its plans now urgently and assure the EU that it will continue to honour its commitments under the Withdrawal Agreement under all circumstances.
“If the UK chose not to respect its international obligations, it would undermine its international standing.”
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Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, is expected to raise the issue of the Government’s border plan with his opposite Lord Frost when they meet later this week in London.
But fears were rising in Brussels, with former Brussels bureaucrat Jean-Claude Juncker pessimistic about the chances of reaching a deal with Britain.
He said: “The situation is not developing in the best direction possible.
“No deal is the most possible and probable and only outcome of the negotiations.”