A person familiar with the plans told the Financial Times that this “could undermine the agreement on Northern Ireland that Boris Johnson signed last October to avoid a return to difficult borders in the region.”
In a statement on Twitter, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said a move like the one described in the Financial Times would “be a very unwise way to move forward” on Brexit.
The UK government has not disputed the FT story, although George Eustis, Britain’s environment minister, indicated in an interview on Sky News that the story may have “overstated things”. He added that “the Northern Ireland Protocol is approved” and “part of the withdrawal agreement.”
A government spokesman described the proposed legislation as a fallback position. “We are working hard to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol through the Joint Commission and will continue to deal with these discussions in good faith. As a responsible government, we are examining precautionary options if this is not achieved. To ensure the protection of Northern Ireland communities,” the spokesperson said.
Two Downing Street sources familiar with the government’s Brexit plans told CNN that they did not recognize large portions of the Financial Times report. However, the news came on the same day Johnson warned that if no deal is struck between London and Brussels by October 15, when EU leaders meet to discuss Brexit, the UK will withdraw from the talks. “It makes no sense to think of timetables beyond that point,” Johnson said in a statement. “If we can’t agree by then, I don’t see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we have to accept that and move on.”
There are signs of tensions in the negotiation process in recent weeks. Brussels fears the UK is trying to strike a deal with conditions that mean it will not bind the commitments it made to the European Union in the withdrawal agreement. The UK believes that Brussels is demanding state aid and fishing in excess of those agreed last year and that the European Union refuses to accept that the UK is now an independent country.
Against this background, it is not surprising that the European Union has rejected any indication that the UK is planning to undermine the 2019 withdrawal agreement. “It is interesting that the leak appeared in the Financial Times which has an international audience,” the EU diplomat said.
While the hawkish rhetoric from Downing Street may alarm officials in Brussels, some in London believe Johnson is paving the way for a major concession this fall in order to secure the Brexit deal. Several Brexit supporters told CNN last week that the best way to get around the current impasse is to disavow parts of the withdrawal agreement.
Whatever the real intentions of the UK government, recent developments are causing nerves in Brussels as the Brexit saga approaches the final chapter.
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