Nicola Sturgeon blasts Tory ‘charlatans’ over post-Brexit Bill

Downing Street has denied new laws that could change post-Brexit customs arrangements with the EU would tear up the existing Withdrawal Agreement.
DUP leader Arlene Foster (left) and now Prime Minister Boris Johnson sing God Save The Queen during the Democratic Unionist Party annual conference at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Belfast in 2018. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty ImagesDUP leader Arlene Foster (left) and now Prime Minister Boris Johnson sing God Save The Queen during the Democratic Unionist Party annual conference at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Belfast in 2018. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
DUP leader Arlene Foster (left) and now Prime Minister Boris Johnson sing God Save The Queen during the Democratic Unionist Party annual conference at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Belfast in 2018. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The UK government is planning legislation that could override key aspects of the treaty signed in 2019 on the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU and future trade in Northern Ireland.

No 10 said it would only make “minor clarifications in extremely specific areas” in the Internal Market Bill when it is tabled tomorrow.

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But the EU said the “full implementation” of the Withdrawal Agreement was a “prerequisite for the negotiations on the future partnership” between the bloc and the UK.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the move risked collapsing trade talks with the EU and branded Conservative ministers “charlatans”.

And the Scottish Government’s constitution minister, Michael Russell, said the UK is “hurtling” towards a no-deal Brexit.

As part of the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the region is expected to continue to follow some EU rules after the transition period ends in 2021 to ensure there is no hard border – which is unpopular with some Tory backbenchers and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

No 10 has said it is committed to the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol, but wants to have something in place to protect trade across the four nations of the UK if an agreement is not reached by the deadline of the end of the year.

The Internal Market Bill is intended to ensure goods from Northern Ireland continue to have unfettered access to the UK market while making clear EU state aid rules – which will continue to apply in Northern Ireland – will not apply in the rest of the UK.

In addition, an amendment to the Finance Bill will give ministers the power to designate which goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are considered “at risk” of entering the EU single market and are therefore liable to EU tariffs.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said discussions were continuing with the EU to resolve the outstanding issues relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol, intended to ensure there is no return of a hard border with the Republic once the transition is over.

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He said the legislative changes were a necessary “safety net” in the event that they were unable to come to an agreement.

A UK official added: “If we don’t take these steps we face the prospect of legal confusion at the end of the year and potentially extremely damaging defaults, including tariffs on goods moving from GB to Northern Ireland.”

However, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned there could be no backtracking by the UK on its previous commitments if it wanted to reach a free trade agreement.

“I trust the British government to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, an obligation under international law and prerequisite for any future partnership,” she said.

“[The] protocol on Ireland-Northern Ireland is essential to protect peace and stability on the island and integrity of the single market.”

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said he would be seeking clarification about the UK’s plans.

He told French radio that honouring the Withdrawal Agreement was “a pre-condition for confidence between us because everything that has been signed in the past must be respected”.

Mr Johnson and French president Emmanuel Macron “agreed on the importance of making progress this month and reaching a conclusion on talks quickly” during a call on Monday, Downing Street said.

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Mr Macron tweeted that it had been a “very good discussion”.

Ahead of a fresh round of Brexit talks with the EU starting today, Mr Johnson heaped further pressure on negotiators by saying that if a deal is not agreed by 15 October, the date of the next European Council, then no deal would be inevitable.

He said: “If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on.

“There is still an agreement to be had. We will continue to work hard in September to achieve it. It is one based on our reasonable proposal for a standard free trade agreement like the one the EU has agreed with Canada and so many others.

“Even at this late stage, if the EU are ready to rethink their current positions and agree this I will be delighted. But we cannot and will not compromise on the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country to get it.”

In response to reports of the UK government’s plans, Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “If true, this means repudiation by UK govt of a Treaty freely negotiated by it, and described by the Prime Minister as an ‘oven ready’ deal.

“This will significantly increase likelihood of no deal, and the resulting damage to the economy will be entirely Tory inflicted. What charlatans.”

Mr Russell said: “The UK government is now hurtling towards a disastrous Brexit outcome in the midst of a deep recession and global pandemic.”

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He added that the Scottish Government will oppose the bill “at every turn” and warned it would “consolidate opposition” against the UK government’s plans and “alienate” the EU.

He said: “With the likely publication of the Internal Market Bill this week, designed to allow bad trade deals to be imposed no matter the view of the Scottish people, we will see confirmed the biggest assault on devolution since the Scottish Parliament was established.

“We will, as we have made clear, oppose it at every turn. In addition, reports that the UK government is now also planning to use this legislation to renege on parts of the Withdrawal Agreement which they willingly entered into just nine months ago, are extraordinary and will not only consolidate opposition across these islands but will also alienate the European Union, further increasing the likelihood of the current talks collapsing.”

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney tweeted: “This would be a very unwise way to proceed.”

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said: “It beggars belief that the government is – yet again – playing a dangerous game in Northern Ireland and sacrificing our international standing at the altar of the Prime Minister’s incompetence.”



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