Boris Johnson’s ‘hand grenade’ Brexit plan sparks fury as Tory MP blames Cummings for Bill

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The Bill, tabled on Wednesday, aims at scuppering the UK’s obligations under the Brexit withdrawal agreement signed with the EU. Talking to TalkRADIO, Sir Roger claimed he would not be surprised to find out the idea to break international law to push the EU for a free trade agreement came from someone like Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s special adviser. 

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Asked whether he believed the Prime Minister’s move was just a “hand grenade thrown into the negotiations”, he replied: “I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if someone not a million miles away from Dominic Cummings said how about this for an idea, Prime Minister?

“And the Prime Minister said oh that’s a jolly wheeze, let’s do it. It will really rub them up the wrong way.

“That’s not the way this should be done.

“This is a key moment in international negotiations in which we have a lot of skin in the game and a very serious interest.

“Now is not the moment to take out a pin out of a grenade and play games.”

Boris Johnson is facing growing unrest among Tory MPs deeply unhappy at the threat to undermine Britain’s traditional support for the international rule of law.

The former chancellor Lord Lamont said the Government was in a “terrible mess” and warned the UK Internal Market Bill would not get through the Lords in its present form.

In the Commons, senior Conservatives are tabling an amendment to the Bill which they said would limit the powers it gave to ministers in relation to the withdrawal agreement.

The row erupted as the latest round of trade talks – also taking place in London – ended on Thursday with both sides acknowledging that “significant differences” remain.

Talks on a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU are hanging in the balance after Brussels demanded the UK abandon plans to override key elements of the withdrawal agreement.

At a stormy meeting in London on Thursday, the Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove insisted the Government “could not and would not” drop measures in legislation tabled earlier this week.

It prompted European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic to accuse the UK of an “extremely serious violation” of international law, putting the ongoing trade talks in jeopardy.

Despite the tensions, Britain’s negotiator Lord Frost said there had been “useful exchanges” and talks would resume next week in Brussels, although he warned that there were still “a number of challenging areas”.

Mr Johnson has set a deadline of October 15 for an agreement to be reached, otherwise he has said he will simply walk away from the negotiating table.

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However Mr Sefcovic said the UK side needed now to rebuild trust which had been “seriously damaged” by the events of the past days.

He said the provisions in the Bill relating to the withdrawal agreement had to be dropped by the end of September and that the EU would “not be shy” about taking legal action if the Government refused.

Under the terms of the Bill, ministers would take powers to vary a protocol in the withdrawal agreement relating to the customs arrangements in Northern Ireland after the current Brexit transition period ends on December 31.

The protocol, agreed after much difficult negotiation, was intended to prevent the need for the return of a “hard” border with the Republic while ensuring the integrity of the EU single market.

The Government has said the measures in the Bill are simply a “legal safety net” to enable it to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland peace process.

This drew a dismissive response from the EU which said that “it does the opposite”.

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