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UPDATE 3-Breaking Brexit treaty? Britain announces details for post-EU life

Wed, 9th Sep 2020 07:06

* UK to announce Internal Markets Bill

* Minister says law would breach Brexit treaty

* UK and EU meeting for trade talks in London

* Anger at suggestion of UK law-breaking
(Adds Irish PM, German economy minister)

By Elizabeth Piper

LONDON, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Britain announces legislation on
Wednesday for life outside the EU after throwing its trade talks
with the bloc into jeopardy by announcing in advance that the
new plans would break international law and "clarify" a deal it
signed in January.

The announcement of the plans, which the government said
would break international law "in a very specific and limited
way", has contributed to concerns Britain could be cast out of
the European Union's single market with no agreement on trade.

The pound has slid 1.8% against the dollar since Friday and
was at its lowest level in six weeks.

Britain quit the EU in January but has remained part of the
single market under a status quo agreement which expires in
December. It has been negotiating a trade deal that would then
take effect, but says it is willing to walk away if it cannot
agree favourable terms.

The British government minister responsible for Northern
Ireland, Brandon Lewis, told parliament on Tuesday that
Wednesday's new bill would break international law but was
needed to clarify the Brexit agreement in the event the sides
fail to reach a trade deal.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said he would speak to
Johnson to express "very strong concerns" about the initiative
while his deputy Leo Varadkar called it a "kamikaze" threat that
had backfired.

Britain's top civil service lawyer resigned abruptly on
Tuesday over what newspapers described as concern about
government plans that would break the law.

The trade negotiations have all but stalled over
disagreements over fisheries and state aid. EU chief Brexit
negotiator Michel Barnier arrived in London on Wednesday to meet
his British counterpart David Frost with both parties warning
they have until October to agree a deal.

The EU has warned Britain that if it reneges on the divorce
treaty there would be no trade agreement.

"What is clear is that agreed deals must be honoured,"
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said. "That means
negotiations should not be burdened by any unilateral changes
made to the content of agreements made between the EU and
Britain."

EU diplomats are uncertain whether Britain's Internal Market
Bill is part of a negotiating strategy, following comments by
Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week that both sides should
move on if no deal could be struck.

END TO UNELECTED EU POWERS

The new bill will ensure that "no longer will unelected EU
bodies be spending our money on our behalf," said Michael Gove,
the minister handling Brexit divorce issues for Britain.

"These new spending powers will mean that these decisions
will now be made in the UK, focus on UK priorities and be
accountable to the UK parliament and people of the UK."

On Northern Ireland, Lewis said the provisions would ensure
businesses based there would have "unfettered access" to the
rest of Britain, without paperwork.

It would also ensure there would be no legal confusion about
the fact that while Northern Ireland would remain subject to EU
rules on state aid for business, Britain would not.

Northern Ireland, which borders EU member Ireland, has
always been a stumbling block in talks, and almost killed off
the Brexit deal until Johnson found agreement with then Irish
Prime Minister Varadkar last year.

That agreement calls for border-free trade on the island of
Ireland, which the EU says should in some cases require checks
on goods passing between Northern Ireland and Britain. But
Johnson has ruled out requiring export declarations or tariffs
on such goods. He has also said Britain would not be bound by EU
rules on providing state aid to companies.

Some fear that a failure to agree on border arrangements
could jeopardise the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which largely
ended three decades of political and sectarian conflict in
Northern Ireland.

Senior members of Johnson's Conservative Party have voiced
anger that Britain might consider breaching its obligations
under an international treaty.

"Any breach, or potential breach, of the international legal
obligations we have entered into is unacceptable, regardless of
whether it’s in a ‘specific’ or ‘limited way’," Bob Neill,
chairman of parliament's justice committee said.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Adair and Madeline Chambers
in Berlin and Conor Humphries in Dublin; Writing by Michael
Holden and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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