LONDON: Brexit trade talks plunged into crisis after Britain warned the European Union (EU) that it could effectively override the divorce deal it signed unless the bloc agrees to a free trade deal by Oct 15.
In one of the most startling turns of the four-year Brexit saga, Britain is reportedly planning new legislation that will override key parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – a step that, if implemented, could jeopardise a treaty signed in January and stoke tension in Northern Ireland.
Sections of the internal market bill, due to be published on tomorrow, are expected to “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement” in areas including state aid and Northern Ireland customs, the Financial Times said, citing three people familiar with the plans.
Britain has set a deadline of Oct 15 to strike a free-trade deal with the EU and if none is agreed, both sides should “accept that and move on, ” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
Johnson says there is no sense in thinking about timelines beyond Oct 15.
“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on, ” he will say, according to comments released by his office.
Britain left the EU on Jan 31 but talks aimed at clinching a new trade deal before the end of a status-quo transition arrangement in December have so far snagged on state aid rules and fishing.
Without a deal, nearly US$1 trillion in trade between Britain and the EU could be thrown into uncertainty, including rules over everything from car parts and medicines to fruit and data.
The reported plan to undermine the withdrawal agreement – disclosed on the eve of a new round of talks in London – was condemned by parties on both sides of the Irish border and elicited surprise in Brussels.
“If the UK chooses not to respect its international obligations, it would undermine its international standing, ” said one EU diplomat.
“Who would want to agree trade deals with a country that doesn’t implement international treaties? It would be a desperate and ultimately self-defeating strategy.
“Without correct implementation of the withdrawal agreement, I cannot imagine the EU would conclude a treaty with a country that does not abide by its treaty commitments, ” said another EU diplomat. — Reuters
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