Brexit violating international treaty will affect US-UK trade deal

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The FINANCIAL — The UK has published a bill to rewrite parts of the withdrawal agreement signed in January 2020. The EU stated that this had seriously damaged trust and it would not be shy of taking legal action against the UK, but cabinet minister Michael Gove said that the UK had made it perfectly clear it would not withdraw the bill. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, has warned that Britain will be unable to secure a trade deal with the US if it does anything to undermine the treaty that brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of violence.

Negotiations between the U.K. and the European Union on their future trade relations after Brexit were never going to be easy. After all, it took more than three years (and several near misses) just to agree the terms of Britain’s departure from the bloc. But talks were expected to stay within the wonkish, technical world of tariffs and product standards, since existential issues like how to deal with the flow of goods across the Irish border without undermining peace or the integrity of the EU market were amicably settled. That has changed in spectacular fashion. Few trade negotiators have found themselves in the position of the EU’s Michel Barnier, who arrived in London this week intending to break an impasse over issues such as state aid only to find Boris Johnson’s government doubling down on a bid to openly breach international law by rewriting the terms of Brexit itself. Legislation published on Wednesday would allow Britain to ditch measures like customs paperwork, designed to avoid a return to a hard border in Ireland, Bloomberg reported.

The government says Parliament is sovereign and can pass laws which breach the UK’s international treaty obligations. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said trust and confidence are and will be key, after the latest round of UK-EU trade talks wrapped up in London on Thursday. His UK counterpart David Frost said significant differences remained over a free trade deal, but added discussions would continue in Brussels next week. It addresses the Northern Ireland Protocol – an element of the withdrawal agreement designed to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland. The bill proposes no new checks on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. It gives UK ministers powers to modify or “disapply” rules relating to the movement of goods that will come into force from 1 January, if the UK and EU are unable to strike a trade deal. The publication of the bill prompted emergency talks between Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and Maros Šefčovič, the European Commission Vice-President, according to BBC.

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On Wednesday Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi made a statement and said that if the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.

Pelosi’s comments came after the UK said it would legislate to override parts of the divorce deal with the European Union in the event that a trade agreement isn’t reached. The UK government claims that its Internal Market Bill is designed to ensure that trade between the four nations of the United Kingdom would remain unfettered in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The UK concedes that it would breach the EU withdrawal agreement; a British Cabinet minister said this week that the legislation would “break international law in a very specific and limited way.” That did not go down well among top Democrats in the US, who fear it could undermine the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of sectarian conflict. UK government ministers insist that the legislation would protect, not undermine, the Good Friday accord. The EU vehemently disagreed on Thursday, CNN wrote.

European Commission made the statement following the extraordinary meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee. The EU does not accept the argument that the aim of the draft Bill is to protect the Good Friday Agreement. Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič called on the UK government to withdraw these measures from the draft Bill in the shortest time possible and in any case by the end of the month. He stated that by putting forward this Bill, the UK has seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK and It is now up to the UK government to re-establish that trust. He reminded the UK government that the Withdrawal Agreement contains a number of mechanisms and legal remedies to address violations of the legal obligations contained in the text – which the European Union will not be shy in using.

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Brussels has issued Boris Johnson with an ultimatum to scrap his plans to override the UK’s Brexit treaty by the end of the month, warning the move had “seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK”. In a sharp escalation of tensions, which threaten the future of trade talks between the two sides, the European Commission on Thursday threatened legal action unless the British prime minister withdrew controversial clauses in the UK’s internal market bill, as reported by The Financial Times. 

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