More than four years since the British voted to leave the European Union, the UK has been embroiled in yet another Brexit crisis – with a dramatic move by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to possibly rewrite parts of the original divorce deal Outrage and threats trigger legal action by EU leaders.
The UK officially left the bloc in January after signing a withdrawal agreement with the EU in 2019. This technical departure marked the beginning of a transition period as both sides drew up a free trade agreement once that transition expired at the end of 2020.
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But as those negotiations stalled, Johnson̵
The agreement included a Northern Ireland Protocol designed to prevent a hard land border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and Ireland (an EU member). The deal meant that there would be some EU rules and controls in place on goods going to and from Ireland the rest of the UK from Northern Ireland. The new Single Market Act would allow the UK government to override these rules if there was no free trade agreement.
Johnson said in a statement for The Daily Telegraph on Saturday that the bill was a response to threats from the EU to “impose a full trade border along the Irish Sea” unless the UK agreed to its terms on a free trade deal .
“We are told that not only will the EU impose tariffs on goods being transported from the UK to Northern Ireland, but that they could actually stop the transport of food from the UK to NI,” he said, adding that it is “vital ” be. that this option will be shut down.
The move has led to heavy criticism in Britain, even from Johnson’s own party, which accuses the government of threatening an international treaty.
Sajid Javid, a former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, said he will not vote on the bill because “I cannot support Britain’s preventive opposition to the UK”. Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major have also spoken out against the move.
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When the bill was presented in second reading in the House of Commons on Monday, Johnson sought to reassure lawmakers that the bill’s powers were only a last resort.
“I have absolutely no desire to use these measures,” said Johnson. “You’re an insurance policy.”
Ed Milliband, shadow trade secretary for the opposition Labor Party, accused Johnson of “destroying the reputation of this country and the reputation of his office”.
Due to the Conservative Party’s strong presence in the House of Commons, the bill was passed at second reading – but 27 members broke the party’s whips and abstained. The Times of London reported that other Tory MPs have warned that they will vote against the government and try to change the legislation when it faces a Commons committee next week.
The move has sparked anger in both Brussels and Washington, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed concern that Johnson’s move could jeopardize the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement. She said that if it did, there would be “no chance” of a US-UK trade deal.
Johnson has pushed this claim back, stating that it is the EU’s interpretation that would undermine the Union and endanger peace in Northern Ireland, not the UK’s response.
Should it become law, the EU has threatened possible legal action against the UK. After last week’s crisis talks, the European Commission said that Vice-President Maros Sefcovic had reminded the UK government that the readmission agreement contains a number of mechanisms and remedies that need to be addressed in violation of the legal obligations contained in the text that the European Union imposes will not shy away. “
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Talks in Brussels are set to continue this week despite the controversy. Both sides have stated that a deal must be struck next month, with Johnson threatening to pull out of talks if a deal is not closed by mid-October.
Without an agreement, tariffs and other restrictions will almost certainly be introduced by both sides early next year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.