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UPDATE 7-Brexit in crisis: EU 'very concerned' by UK plan to break divorce treaty

Wed, 9th Sep 2020 07:06

* UK bill: some provisions incompatible with international
law

* EU says UK is breaking Withdrawal Agreement treaty

* UK and EU negotiators meet for trade talks in London

* Eikon Brexit page https://emea1.apps.cp.thomsonreuters.com/cms/?navid=15301
(Adds Major's comment)

By Elizabeth Piper and William James

LONDON, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Britain plunged Brexit trade
talks into crisis on Wednesday by explicitly acknowledging it
could break international law by ignoring some parts of its
European Union divorce treaty, prompting a rapid rebuke from the
EU's chief executive.

Brushing aside warnings from Brussels that breaching the
treaty would prevent any trade deal being struck, London said in
the proposed legislation that it would ignore parts of the
Withdrawal Agreement, which was only signed in January.

The Internal Market Bill spells out that certain provisions
are "to have effect notwithstanding inconsistency or
incompatibility with international or other domestic law".

The government has said international law would be broken
"in a very specific and limited way".

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission,
promptly tweeted that she was "very concerned" about the British
government's intentions.

"This would break international law and undermines trust.
Pacta sunt servanda = the foundation of prosperous future
relations," she said. The Latin phrase, meaning "agreements must
be kept", is a basic principle of international law.

John Major, a former Conservative prime minister, warned the
government that "if we lose our reputation for honouring the
promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that
may never be regained".

The bill's publication, on the day the EU's chief negotiator
arrived in London for a new round of trade talks, suggested to
some that Prime Minister Boris Johnson might be trying to goad
the bloc into storming out of those negotiations.

But EU sources told Reuters they would not seek a
suspension. Although EU officials expressed dismay, one said
that giving up on the negotiations "would only play into the
U.K. game".

"KAMIKAZE THREAT"

Johnson told parliament the bill was "a legal safety net to
protect our country against extreme or irrational
interpretations" of the Withdrawal Agreement's Northern Ireland
protocol that could threaten peace in the British province.

The bill, if approved, would give ministers the power to
ignore parts of that protocol by modifying the form of export
declarations and other exit procedures.

But the list of specific agreements that might be ignored
includes not only provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol
but also "any other provision of the EU Withdrawal Agreement"
and "any other EU law or international law".

The bill says Britain may 'disapply' provisions including
one that relates to Northern Ireland and state aid. Johnson's
team see state aid as crucial for ensuring they can incubate new
global technology firms and help "level up" parts of Britain.

Johnson's spokesman said the EU divorce deal was like no
other treaty and had been "agreed at pace in the most
challenging possible political circumstances". Opponents accused
him of blatant hypocrisy after promising before December's
election that he had an "oven-ready deal".

The bill will be debated in both chambers of parliament and
require their approval before becoming law.

Britain quit the EU in January but has remained part of its
single market, largely free of trade barriers, under a status
quo agreement that expires in December. It has been negotiating
a trade deal to take effect from Jan. 1, but says it is willing
to walk away if it cannot agree favourable terms.

The 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 mainland Britain.
But Johnson has ruled out requiring export declarations or
tariffs on such goods.

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.

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

Senior members of Johnson's Conservative Party have already
voiced anger that Britain might consider breaking international
law, and the bill, Scotland and Wales say, will weaken the
fabric of the United Kingdom itself by stealing powers from them
and Northern Ireland.

Asked how he could expect Britons to obey the law if his
government was willing to undermine it, Johnson said: "We expect
everybody in this country to obey the law."

(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 and Kevin
Liffey)

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