EU stands firm on demand for changes to Brexit bill

17 September 2020, 15:18 | Updated: 17 September 2020, 16:42

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and PM Boris Johnson
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and PM Boris Johnson. Picture: PA

Brussels is standing firm on its demand for the UK to abandon plans to override key elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, despite ministers agreeing a compromise with Tory rebels.

Boris Johnson was forced to agree to table an amendment to the UK Internal Market Bill, giving MPs a vote before the Government can use powers which would breach the deal brokered with the EU last year.

His controversial plan to break international law angered scores of his backbenchers, and prompted the European Commission to demand the provisions in the Bill relating to the Withdrawal Agreement be dropped by the end of the month.

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But despite the Government's compromise, Brussels said on Thursday that its position had not changed and it still wanted the clauses to be withdrawn from the legislation.

Eric Mamer, chief spokesman for the European Commission, told a press briefing: "We have as you know set out a position extremely clearly, it is in our statement, and it relates to those clauses being withdrawn from the law.

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"That position has not changed and we have asked the UK to do this at the earliest possible convenience, and by the end of September at the latest. That has not changed."

The spokesman also insisted the EU carries out negotiations in "good faith", after the Prime Minister told MPs on Wednesday he did not believe they had acted as such in the Brexit talks.

Mr Mamer said: "I think that Michel Barnier showed, in the context of the negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement, that even on extremely complex and politically sensitive issues the Commission and indeed the EU negotiate in perfectly good faith."

It came as US presidential election frontrunner Joe Biden insisted the Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland cannot become a "casualty" of Brexit.

The Democratic Party nominee for the White House said a future trade deal between the US and UK could only happen if the peace agreement was respected.

Mr Biden tweeted: "We can't allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit.

"Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period."

In response, Downing Street said the Government was working with US politicians to make sure people understood its position.

"We continue to remain absolutely committed to no hard border and no border infrastructure between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland," a Number 10 spokesman said.

"And we will continue to engage with our US partners on a bipartisan basis to ensure that our positions are understood."

Asked if Mr Biden was wrong, the spokesman said: "We will continue to work with our US partners to ensure our position is understood, but the whole point of this, as the PM has set out, is to make sure the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is upheld."

Meanwhile, Daniel Ferrie, a European Commission spokesman, said the EU is "not threatening food supply to Northern Ireland".

He tweeted: "We are committed to the faithful implementation of the Protocol. EU rules will continue to apply to food imports into NI. This avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland. The UK agreed to this."

It comes amid Government concerns that food imports may be blocked from Britain to Northern Ireland.