Taoiseach Micheál Martin to ‘tackle’ Boris Johnson on the issue as UK publishes controversial Internal Market Bill
After months in the Covid-19 shadows Brexit is moving again – but it’s going backwards. Here’s an update on all you need to know.
After two days of cautiously watching and waiting, Taoiseach Micheál Martin will hit the phone this afternoon and talk to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The phone call comes as the London government has admitted it intends breaking international law via new domestic legislation which dilutes special trade status already guaranteed to Northern Ireland in the EU after Brexit fully happens.
The move had infuriated all Dáil parties, and all politicians in the North – bar the Democratic Unionist Party. Mr Martin was slow to bow to opposition pressure to publicly “tackle” Johnson on the latest move.
Some, including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, think Mr Johnson is “sabre-rattling” and trying to benefit from a big upset in ongoing EU-UK talks. These talks are making no progress on forging a new Brussels-London trade deal before a standstill transition period ends on December 31.
Today UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson published his Internal Market Bill which allows London power, without EU consultation, to change customs rules applying to Northern Ireland. These rules effectively keep the North in the EU single market after Brexit but require controls of imports and exports to the North.
Johnson this afternoon brushed aside objections from the opposition – and key people in his own Conservative Party.
“Yes, indeed we will press on with this law,” he said. The draft law also allows London to ignore EU rules on state aid to business in the North.
The UK PM argues any international law breaches are “limited and technical”. The move is about ensuring smooth trade between the North and England, Scotland and Wales after Brexit, and avoiding “a border in the Irish Sea”.
Dismay reigned across the board at the prospect of the UK reneging on last October’s Withdrawal Agreement giving Northern Ireland special trade status. There is a circling of the wagons around the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
European Parliament president David Sassoli said there would be no EU divisions. French trade minister Frank Reister thought Boris Johnson may be trying diversion tactics in talks which are going against him.
“There is a game of bluff going on,” the French trade minister said. He added that an EU-UK trade deal can still happen provided London guaranteed no undercutting on labour and environment standards and kept Brussels’ state-aid rules on grants to business. Of course, the UK must also grant continued access to its fishing grounds from January 1 next.
But in Brussels, as elsewhere, the clock is ticking. A trade deal must be in place by mid-October if it is to be approved by member states in time for the December 31 deadline for the UK leaving the EU for trade purposes.
The view across all EU capitals right now is that Brexit is going backwards. The danger of a calamitous no-deal Brexit threatens tens of thousands of Irish jobs.