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Brexit: support me on the bill, Johnson tells Conservative MPs

Boris Johnson

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Boris Johnson urged Conservative lawmakers to support his plan to cancel part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

In a Zoom call with about 250 of them, he said the party must not go back to “miserable squabbles”

; over Europe.

The EU has warned the UK that it could face legal action if it does not abandon the controversial elements of the internal market bill by the end of the month.

And a Conservative MP proposed an amendment to the bill, which would affect trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament has threatened to scuttle any trade agreement between the UK and the EU if the bill becomes British law.

The two sides have less than five weeks to agree a deal before Mr. Johnson’s October 15 deadline – after which he says he is ready to “leave.”

Informal talks are expected to resume on Monday, with the next official round of talks – the ninth since March – starting in Brussels on 28 September.

The Internal Market Act, which will be formally discussed in the House of Commons for the first time on Monday, addresses the Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement designed to prevent the return of a rigid border to the island of Ireland.

If it becomes law, it would give British ministers the power to change or “disapply” the rules relating to the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland which will come into effect on 1 January if the UK and the EU they will not be able to conclude a commercial agreement.

The EU states that the planned changes must be eliminated or they risk jeopardizing trade talks between the UK and the EU.

But the government rejected this request, arguing that the measures in the bill are necessary to protect the integrity of the UK and the peace process in Northern Ireland.

In his Zoom call with MPs on Friday, the prime minister did not answer questions and a weak signal meant the loss of video and audio connections for several minutes.

He asked for “overwhelming support” for the bill, calling it “absolutely vital” to “prevent a foreign or international body from having the power to dismantle our country.”

Mr Johnson added that he would not tolerate “the threat of a border along the Irish Sea”.

But he said there was still a “very good chance” that the UK and the EU would conclude a deal in mid-October similar to the one previously agreed between the EU and Canada – which eliminated most, but not all, of them. tariffs on goods.

BBC chief political correspondent Vicki Young said Conservative MPs are “looking for a sign of compromise” from Mr. Johnson, as “they simply can’t believe the government is ready to break international law,” but the prime minister. ” he dug his feet. “

‘Serious misunderstanding’

In a column in the Daily Telegraph, Mr. Johnson defended the government’s plans to ignore parts of the withdrawal agreement.

He accused the EU of adopting an “extreme” interpretation of the Northern Ireland Protocol to impose “a large-scale trade border along the Irish Sea” that could stop the transport of food from Britain to Ireland. of the North.

“I have to say that we never seriously believed that the EU would be willing to use a treaty, negotiated in good faith, to block a part of the UK, to cut it out,” he said.

The prime minister said it became clear that there could be a “serious misunderstanding” between the UK and the EU over the Withdrawal Agreement

He said the UK must be protected from what he called an EU “disaster” to “split our country” and “endanger peace and stability in Northern Ireland”.

“A harmful act”

Conservative backbencher Sir Bob Neill, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee, said he was not reassured by the prime minister’s Zoom call.

It is tabling an amendment to the bill to try to force a separate parliamentary vote on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.

“I believe it is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it more difficult to conclude trade deals in the future,” he said.

At about the same time as the prime minister was speaking, the European Parliament announced that “under no circumstances will it ratify” any trade agreement reached between the UK and the EU if “British authorities violate or threaten to violate” the ‘withdrawal agreement.

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis admitted that parts of the bill, which would go against a treaty signed by the UK and the EU, “would violate international law in a very specific and limited way”.

There is unease about this within the Conservative Party, with former leaders Theresa May, Lord Howard and Sir John Major urging Mr. Johnson to change his mind.

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