UK lawmakers on Tuesday approved Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversial bill that repeals provisions of the Brexit deal. For the European Union leadership, the measure violates international law and threatens trade negotiations at a critical time.
After leaving the European Union on January 31, the United Kingdom is in a transition period until the end of the year, during which it is negotiating a free trade agreement with Brussels that will regulate its future relations.
In order to avoid a brutal rupture with catastrophic economic consequences, this agreement must be closed in October, allowing time for its ratification.
The ninth round of negotiations began on Tuesday in Brussels, but previous rounds were unsuccessful. Thus, the tension has grown since Johnson said he was willing to violate the Withdrawal Agreement, a legally binding international treaty in place for months.
The idea sparked an initial rebellion in the ranks of the Conservative Party, the same group as Johnson, but deputies finally approved on Tuesday the controversial “internal market bill” by 340 votes to 256.
Customs control between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – Photo: Arte / G1
The text approved by Parliament modifies the application of tariffs and customs controls at the Irish border, provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, while the Republic of Ireland is independent and part of the European Union.
The agreement includes a provision by which Northern Ireland will maintain the rules of the European common market to avoid the reimposition of a border with the neighboring Republic of Ireland and to preserve the fragile peace that has prevailed on the island since the Good Friday Agreement 1998 This treaty ended three decades of bloody conflict between Catholic Republicans and Republican union members.
European officials denounced Johnson’s plans as a threat to that stability and asked him to withdraw them before Wednesday, under penalty of legal action.
But the prime minister defended himself by saying that if London and Brussels do not reach a trade agreement, such a device would allow the EU to “impose customs borders” within its country.
Even US President Donald Trump’s special envoy, Mick Mulvaney, said recently that it could “compromise” the Good Friday Agreement.
“When even the Trump administration” comes out in defense of international law, “you know you have a problem,” launched labor opponent Ed Miliband.
Difficult trading against the clock
Some conservatives, such as former Prime Minister Theresa May, objected to the text, saying the government was “acting recklessly and irresponsibly, without thinking about the long-term impact” and “incalculable damage to the UK’s reputation” .
Johnson, however, managed to avoid internal rebellion by agreeing to give deputies the last word in implementing these changes. The initiative, however, should not be enough to calm the ire of its former European partners, for whom the disregard for what has been signed breaks the necessary “confidence” in the complex and stagnant trade negotiations.
EU leaders have a summit scheduled for October 16, when they must discuss whether it is still worth investing time and energy in a trade agreement with London.
But, in addition to the “internal market law” controversy, European and British negotiators have difficult issues to resolve, especially in a short space of time.
Committee discussions between the European Union and the United Kingdom took place on Monday (28) in Brussels – Photo: John Thys / Pool / AFP
If it is not possible to reach an understanding, starting next year, trade relations between the EU and the United Kingdom will be governed by the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
At the corporate level, negotiators must agree on the criteria for state aid and subsidies, a particularly sensitive issue.
The EU fears that it will find a powerful and unfair competitor. It also needs to address the European demand that its vessels can continue to fish in the rich British waters, which London is opposed to.