LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has strongly defended his government's plan to override sections of the Brexit deal he negotiated with the European Union, arguing that the EU has an “extreme” interpretation of the treaty that could jeopardize the U.K.'s future.
In a column published Saturday in The Daily Telegraph, Johnson said the government's Internal Market Bill is needed to end EU threats to impose a “blockade” in the Irish Sea that the prime minister asserted could “carve up our country.”
The legislation, which the British government has conceded violates international law in places, has prompted a furious outcry within the EU and Johnson's Conservative Party. British lawmakers are expected to debate it next week.
With the government showing no sign of changing course, there are real concerns that ongoing talks on a future trade deal between the U.K. and the EU could collapse within weeks. If that happens, tariffs and other impediments to trade will be imposed by both sides at the start of 2021.
The furor is largely based on the fact that the bill would diminish the EU’s previously agreed oversight of trade between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland in the event a trade agreement isn't secured.
Michael Gove, a senior member of Johnson's Cabinet, told Sky News on Saturday that the government needs to take out an “insurance policy."
The U.K. left the EU on Jan. 31, but it is in a transition period that effectively sees it benefit from the bloc's tariff-free trade until the end of the year while a future relationship is negotiated. Even before the latest standoff, discussions between the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his U.K. counterpart, David Frost, had made very little progress.
One major element of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which allowed for the U.K.'s smooth departure from the EU, is the section related to ensuring an open border on the island of Ireland to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland