London, Sep 10 (efe-epa).- A senior British Cabinet minister said Thursday that the United Kingdom has no intention of withdrawing a controversial bill that would unilaterally breach the Brexit divorce deal.
The UK’s Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, said he had communicated that decision to the vice president of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, in a meeting.
“I made it perfectly clear to Vice President Sefcovic that we would not be withdrawing this legislation. And he understood that. Of course he regretted it,” Gove told Sky News after Brussels had issued an ultimatum demanding that the UK scrap the proposal by the end of September.
“Instead, I stressed the vital importance of reaching agreement through the (EU-UK) Joint Committee on these important questions,” the Cabinet Office minister added.
The European Union on Thursday urged the UK’s government to backtrack on proposed legislation that could override parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement which entered into force in February, saying it would breach international law and jeopardize peace in Northern Ireland.
Sefcovic held an emergency meeting with Gove on Thursday in London to discuss the implications of the UK government’s draft Internal Market Bill, which includes proposals to alter the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, a mechanism aimed at maintaining a soft border on the island of Ireland.
“Violating the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement would break international law, undermine trust and put at risk the ongoing future relationship negotiations,” the Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, said after the meeting in a sternly worded statement.
“The EU does not accept the argument that the aim of the draft Bill is to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. In fact, it is of the view that it does the opposite,” it continued, referring to the 1998 multilateral peace deal that put an end to decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.
“By putting forward this Bill, the UK has seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK. It is now up to the UK government to re-establish that trust,” the Commission said.
“(Sefcovic) reminded the UK government that the Withdrawal Agreement contains a number of mechanisms and legal remedies to address violations of the legal obligations contained in the text – which the European Union will not be shy in using.”
The UK’s Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, acknowledged Tuesday that the bill, if approved by Parliament, would break international law in a “specific and limited way.”
“There are clear precedence for the UK and indeed other countries needing to consider their international obligations as circumstances change,” he added.
The bill proposes the safeguarding of tariff-free trade between all four nations in the UK, including between Northern Ireland, a UK territory that shares a border with EU member Ireland, and Great Britain.
It would also give UK ministers the power to unilaterally alter rules signed off on by the UK and the EU in the withdrawal agreement.
The latest spat coincides with the end of the eighth round of negotiations on an EU-UK trade deal, which concluded on Thursday.
The EU’s head of Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom, Michel Barnier, offered a pessimistic assessment of the talks, saying that “significant differences remain in areas of essential interest for the EU,” including competition policies and labor and environmental standards.
But he said the teams will remain in contact in the coming days.
Employing tougher rhetoric, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently said that a deal must be completed by 15 October and that otherwise the UK will prepare for a no-deal outcome.
Under that scenario, the UK would crash out of its five-decade relationship with the bloc and default to World Trade Organization rules.
Hard-line groups within the Conservative Party, which has a resounding majority in the UK’s House of Commons, tout a no-deal outcome as a viable option while the opposition Labour Party and liberal Conservative MPs reject it.