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The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has arrived in London for the eighth round of official talks with the UK, having already set a “strict” deadline of October 31 for a deal to be agreed by in time for the end of the transition period on December 31. But Boris Johnson has infuriated senior European Union officials and leaders throughout the bloc after it was revealed his Government will table new legislation that threatens to override key elements of the withdrawal agreement with Brussels. Under the withdrawal agreement, Northern Ireland would continue to have custom-free links to the neighbouring Republic, with new customs borders built along the Irish Sea, but the new legislation would look to nullify this arrangement in the event of a no deal outcome between the UK and EU.
Downing Street has insisted changes in the Internal Market Bill are simply “limited clarifications” to protect the Northern Ireland peace process if they failed to secure a free trade deal with the EU.
But Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis provoked a furious reaction when he confirmed to MPs on Tuesday the legislation would breach international law in a “very specific and limited way”.
Now Irish Taoiseach Mr Martin has launched a stinging attack against Mr Johnson and his plan to override this key part of the withdrawal agreement, claiming the move “undermines trust” in the negotiations with the EU, warning it is now a “critical time” in the Brexit process, and the “stakes are very high”.
Mr Martin tweeted: “Any negotiation process can only proceed on the basis of trust.
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When one party to a negotiation decides that they can change what’s already agreed and incorporated into law, it really undermines trust. This is a critical time in the Brexit process and the stakes are very high
“When one party to a negotiation decides that they can change what’s already agreed and incorporated into law, it really undermines trust.
“This is a critical time in the Brexit process and the stakes are very high.”
Mr Martin will speak to Mr Johnson to express “very strong concerns” about the plans, while his deputy Mr Varadkar branded it a “kamikaze” threat that had backfired.
He had said: “We’re extremely concerned about unilateral nature of the British Government’s action. The timing of this initiative, unilateral in nature, does not build trust.
“I will be speaking later this afternoon with the British Prime Minister to register our very strong concerns about this latest development, and in particular the unilateral nature of it and the fact that it fundamentally is seeking to deviate from what is an agreed international treaty.
“I think it’s taken a lot people aback across Europe, and indeed in the United Kingdom itself, and it’s not an acceptable way to conduct negotiations.
“I spoke with the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, last evening and we both agree that this is a very serious development.
“In addition, I would say also the degree to which it drags Northern Ireland back into the centre stage is very, very regrettable. It has the potential to be divisive in that context and we will all work to make sure that does not transpire.”
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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was “very concerned” about the new intentions from the UK Government.
She tweeted: “This would break international law and undermines trust.
“Pacta sunt servanda = the foundation of prosperous future relations.”
The Latin phrase, meaning “agreements must be kept”, is a basic principle of international law.
Former prime minister Theresa May warned the Government risks losing the trust of other countries that it would honour its international agreements, while Labour described the admission as “absolutely astonishing”.
Former prime minister John Major echoed that warning to the Government and said: “If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained.”
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