EU stands firm on demand for changes to Brexit Bill despite PM's compromise

The Brexit process has been thrown into fresh turmoil. Picture by Jonathan Brady, Press Association
Harriet Line, PA Deputy Political Editor

Brussels is standing firm on its demand for the UK to abandon plans to override key elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, despite ministers agreeing a compromise with Tory rebels.

Boris Johnson was forced to agree to table an amendment to the UK Internal Market Bill, giving MPs a vote before the British Government can use powers which would breach the deal brokered with the EU last year.

His controversial plan to break international law angered scores of his backbenchers, and prompted the European Commission to demand the provisions in the Bill relating to the Withdrawal Agreement be dropped by the end of the month.

But despite the Government’s compromise, Brussels said on Thursday that its position had not changed and it still wanted the clauses to be withdrawn from the legislation.

Eric Mamer, chief spokesman for the European Commission, told a press briefing: “We have as you know set out a position extremely clearly, it is in our statement, and it relates to those clauses being withdrawn from the law.

“That position has not changed and we have asked the UK to do this at the earliest possible convenience, and by the end of September at the latest. That has not changed.”

The spokesman also insisted the EU carries out negotiations in “good faith”, after the Prime Minister told MPs on Wednesday he did not believe they had acted as such in the Brexit talks.

Mr Mamer said: “I think that Michel Barnier showed, in the context of the negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement, that even on extremely complex and politically sensitive issues the Commission and indeed the EU negotiate in perfectly good faith.”

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator during talks on the Withdrawal Agreement, tweeted: “The climbdown by @10DowningStreet on the IM Bill might be ending the Tory Rebellion, but it’s still a clear breach of international law.

“The @Europarl_EN will not give its consent to any trade deal if this is not rectified & the Good Friday Agreement protected.”

It came as US presidential election frontrunner Joe Biden insisted the Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland cannot become a “casualty” of Brexit.

The Democratic Party nominee for the White House said a future trade deal between the US and UK could only happen if the peace agreement was respected.

Mr Biden tweeted: “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit.

“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, on a visit to Washington, accused Brussels of the “politicisation” of Northern Ireland issues in the context of Brexit trade talks.

He said the EU stance threatened the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Raab said he had made clear the UK has an “absolute” commitment to the Good Friday Agreement.

“The UK action here is defensive in relation to what the EU is doing, it is precautionary, we haven’t done any of this yet, and it is proportionate,” he said.

“What we cannot have is the EU seeking to erect a regulatory border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Britain.”

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