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British and European Union negotiators have held seven rounds of talks since March in a desperate attempt to strike a Brexit trade agreement before the end of the transition period on December 31. But very little progress has been made, with both sides blaming each other on their refusal to give ground on several red lines, predominantly fisheries, state aid and the EU’s level playing field. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has travelled to London this week for the latest round of talks, having already set a “strict” deadline of October 31 for a deal to be agreed so it can be ratified by the European Parliament before the end of the transition period.
But senior EU officials have been left furious by after it was revealed the UK Government will table new legislation, which threatens to override key elements of the original withdrawal agreement.
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 confirmed to MPs on Tuesday the legislation would breach international law in a “very specific and limited way”.
Under the withdrawal agreement, Northern Ireland would continue to have custom-free links to the neighbouring Republic after Brexit, with new customs borders built along the Irish Sea, but the new legislation could nullify this arrangement in the event of a no deal outcome between the UK and EU.
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Fury has spread across Europe, with the Eurointelligence news website warning the new legislation could “unleash a sequence of events with a negative dynamic” and make it “impossible” for the EU to continue negotiations with the EU.
The blog post read: “Depending on how the legislation is drafted, that is, whether the breach of law is real or potential, it could make it impossible for the EU to continue negotiations.
“This is indeed a risk we do not believe the UK government has considered in careful detail.
“Politically, the UK is now using Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip in the talks.
“The political purpose of this no deal legislation is to gain the upper hand in negotiations by signalling to the EU that the UK is really serious about no deal, and that this could endanger the peace in Ireland.”
Eurointelligence warned there has been virtually no serious debate on the continent about the wider impact of a no-deal Brexit on EU countries and residents in the UK, as well as the impact on security, foreign policy or Ireland, because the “probability of no deal was widely underestimated”.
The blog claimed negotiations between the two sides “turned into an ugly battle of egos” when the EU tried to make a “power-grab” for UK state aid policy.
Eurointelligence explained: “The EU is the bigger of the two sides, and can impose its will, for example by anchoring the level-playing-field to its own conditions. This was a short-sighted argument.
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“As we learned ourselves, there are no obstacles in UK domestic law to stop the Government legislating breaches of international law.
“The International Court of Justice in the Hague may well end up ruling against the UK. But, first, this won’t happen before the end of the year. And, second, the ICJ has no enforcement powers.
“If you start playing the relationship talks in the spirit of a geopolitical power game, don’t be surprised when the other side plays in the same spirit.”
Eurointelligence said despite increasing fears of a no deal Brexit, the outcome is still “wide open”, but had a warning for the EU over what to do next as time runs out to strike an agreement.
The blog post read: “We don’t like to give percentages chances because they are usually numerical extensions of gut feelings.
“What determines whether there will be a deal or not is the readiness of the EU to accept a compromise on state aid. If it does, then there will be a deal. If not, there won’t.”
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