Ireland: UK-EU trade deal 'won't be ratified' if Brexit bill remains unchanged

15 November 2020, 10:23

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney answers journalists questions.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney says a deal is “very difficult, but it is also very doable”. Picture: Getty

By Joe Cook

A Brexit deal “won’t be ratified” by the EU if the British government goes ahead with its controversial UK Internal Market Bill, the Irish foreign minister has warned.

Simon Coveney said there is an “absolutely unanimous view” amongst European governments and officials that the EU will not sign a new trade deal if Britain “undermines” the Withdrawal Agreement signed in December 2019.

Boris Johnson’s government is pushing ahead with the contentious UK Internal Market Bill, which overrides parts of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The bill was heavily defeated by 433 to 165 in the House of Lords last Monday, with Conservative former leader Lord Howard of Lympne leading calls for the Prime Minister to "think again" and remove the disputed parts of the legislation.

But a Government spokesperson said they "will retable these clauses when the Bill returns to the Commons”, claiming it is a necessary “legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK's internal market” and the Northern Irish peace process.

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In a warning against these plans, Mr Coveney told Sky News: “Even if we do get a new trade deal negotiated between both sides, if the British government is determined to continue with their Internal Market Bill, to reintroduce parts of that bill that were removed by the House of Lords this week, then I think this is a deal that won’t be ratified by the EU.

“There is no way the EU will agree to ratify a new agreement if the British government is breaking the existing agreement that is not even 12 months old and breaking international law by doing that.”

However, the Irish foreign minister added the bill “may not be the issue that it is now” if the two sides can “resolve the outstanding issues linked to the protocol on Northern Ireland”.

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A deal is “very difficult, but it is also very doable,” Mr Coveney explained, but added “it could” all fall through on fishing rights.

"We really have to try and find a way of coming up with a compromise on fish that both sides can live with,” he argued.

“These fish are not owned by anybody, they are transitory. They move between jurisdictions and we are trying now to get a shared arrangement so that we can manage stocks in a way that is sustainable for both sides.

“So we can keep fishing interests strong both in the EU and in the UK in the future and manage the stocks in a sustainable way. But let me be clear, without a deal on fish we won’t get a deal.”

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Brexit negotiations are ongoing, with Environment Secretary George Eustice telling Sky News next week is "a week when things need to move” if the UK and EU are to agree a deal before the end of the year.