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Brexit: Johnson says the EU may not negotiate in good faith



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Multimedia captionAsked if the EU is negotiating a trade deal with the UK in good faith, Boris Johnson says: “I don’t think they are.”

Boris Johnson told MPs he believes the EU is not negotiating with the UK in good faith.

The prime minister explained why he wants to overwrite parts of the Brexit deal he signed with the EU in January.

He said it was to prevent the EU from behaving “unreasonably”

; if the UK fails to agree on a trade deal.

Pushed by Labor Hilary Benn that she thought the EU was negotiating in good faith, he said: “I don’t think they are.”

This contradicted Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis, who had previously told lawmakers that he believed the EU was acting in good faith.

When communicated to him, Mr. Johnson said it was “always possible that I am wrong and perhaps they will prove my suspicions wrong”.

Both parties have a duty to act in good faith under Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement – but it is difficult to demonstrate a lack of “good faith” or “best efforts” – another phrase embodied in the treaty.

Rebellious business

The legal definition of “good faith” is stronger than the generally accepted meaning of the words.

Mr Johnson told the Liaison Committee, a group of senior backbench MPs, that a no-deal scenario was “not what this country wants” and “not what our friends and EU partners want from us.”

“So I have all the hopes and expectations that this will not be the result.”

It comes when Lord Keen, the Scottish Advocate General, resigned from the government, telling the Prime Minister: “I have found it increasingly difficult to reconcile what I consider my obligations as a legal officer with your political intentions.”

Lord Keen opposed the UK’s domestic markets bill, which would allow the government to ignore parts of the withdrawal bill in violation of international law.

The Prime Minister struck a deal with some of the Tory MPs dissatisfied with parts of the bill, potentially reducing the size of a rebellion when he returns to the Commons next week.

“Almost unanimous agreement”

The government agreed to table an amendment to the bill, which would give lawmakers a vote before using the powers in the bill that would violate international law.

In a joint statement with Number 10, former government minister Damian Green – head of a centrist group of conservative parliamentarians – said: “The Internal Market Bill was designed to give MPs and colleagues a vote on use of these powers through a statutory instrument.

“But following the talks, it was agreed that the parliamentary procedure suggested by some colleagues provides a clearer and more explicit democratic mandate for the use of these powers, and also provides greater legal certainty.”

It means that Sir Bob Neill – the Tory noble who intended to give MPs the last word on the powers of the bill – will now withdraw his amendment.

The statement states that there is “almost unanimous agreement on the conservative benches that the government must be able to use these powers as a last resort, that there must be legal certainty and that no further amendments on these powers are needed” .

He adds that the government will present another amendment “which places clear limits on the scope and timeliness of judicial review in the exercise of these powers”.

Welcoming the deal, Green urged the government to focus on defining the terms of its future economic partnership with the bloc before the October 15 deadline set by the PM.

However, Labor shadow secretary for affairs Ed Miliband said his party would continue to oppose the bill.

Responding to the joint statement he said: “This does not solve the problem of breaking the law, damaging our reputation in the world and damaging our future prosperity.

“We need a trade agreement with Europe and that’s what we’ve been promised. Breaking our word and the treaty signed by the prime minister puts it at risk.”

‘Belt and braces’

Mr Johnson says the Internal Market Bill is needed to protect the UK’s “territorial integrity” if trade talks with the EU fail.

He described it to MPs as a “belt and suspenders” measure in case of “extreme” interpretations of the withdrawal agreement by the EU.

The bill was “to ensure that friends and partners don’t do something unreasonable,” he added.

But it has provoked backlash from the EU, which has threatened legal action – and possible suspension of trade talks – if not withdrawn.

What is the Internal Market Bill?

The bill sets out the rules for the functioning of the UK’s internal market – trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – after the Brexit transition period ends in January.

Proposes:

  • No new controls on goods in transit from Northern Ireland to the rest of Great Britain
  • Giving UK ministers the power to change or “disapply” the rules relating to the movement of goods which will take effect on January 1 if the UK and the EU are unable to reach an alternative deal through a trade agreement
  • Powers to cancel previously agreed state aid obligations – government support for business.

The bill explicitly states that these powers should be applied even if they are incompatible with international law.

Ministers say legislation is needed to prevent “harmful” tariffs on goods traveling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland if negotiations with the EU on a free trade agreement fail.

But some high-level Conservatives – including former Prime Minister Sir John Major – have warned that it risks undermining the UK’s reputation as an advocate of international law.

The legislation has also proved controversial with devolved administrations, concerned about how the UK’s “internal market” will work after Brexit and setting regulations and standards.


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