Boris Johnson has been criticised for “ripping up” parts of his Brexit withdrawal agreement after previously referring to it as “oven-ready”.
The Financial Times has reported that the government is preparing legislation that would override a key part of its withdrawal agreement with the EU.
The plan would eliminate the requirement for new customs arrangements in Northern Ireland designed to prevent the return of border checks.
The withdrawal agreement, signed by the UK and the EU in January, sets up a transitional period until the end of this year for both parties to negotiate a new trade deal.
On Monday, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood told the BBC's Westminster Hour: "It’s absolutely astonishing that any government who says they want to go and do trade deals around the world would just rip up an agreement that they made a few months ago with the EU.”
The Labour Party said: “This would be an act of immense bad faith that would be damaging to our national interests and viewed dimly by our future trading partners around the world.”
Johnson has set a deadline of 15 October for Britain and the EU to agree a post-Brexit trade deal, giving negotiators five weeks before the prospect of walking away from the table.
The prime minister will say later on Monday that both sides should “move on” if an agreement is not reached by that date, and that a no-deal Brexit would be a “good outcome”.
However, his tone is a far cry from the promise he made before last December’s general election of having an “oven-ready” Brexit withdrawal deal ready to go.
On a visit to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge on 31 October last year, Johnson said: “We’ve got an oven-ready deal.”
A few days later, in an interview with The Sun On Sunday on 3 November, Johnson said: “We’ve got a deal that’s oven-ready.
“We’ve just got to put it in at gas mark four, give it 20 minutes and Bob’s your uncle.
“There’s only one way to get Brexit done and there’s only one way to get it done fast and that’s to vote for us, vote for the Conservatives.”
He went on to repeat the “oven-ready” mantra on numerous occasions throughout his election campaign.
In the Conservative Party manifesto, he wrote: “With a new Parliament and a sensible majority government, we can get that deal through in days.
“It is oven-ready and every single Conservative MP elected at this election, all 365 of them, have pledged to vote for this deal immediately.”
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When launching his campaign on 6 November, Johnson said: “We’ve got a deal, oven-ready, by which we can leave the EU in just a few weeks.”
But he didn’t just restrict himself to just one cooking metaphor.
During the same period, he caused some confusion by insisting his Brexit withdrawal deal was ready to go into another kitchen appliance.
At the launch of Conservative Party’s campaign at the NEC in Birmingham, Johnson said of his deal: “Whack it in the microwave, gas mark… I’m not very good at cooking… gas mark four.
“Prick the lid. Put it in, and then we can get on… we can put this deal through Parliament.”
The prime minister was mocked online for comparing his Brexit withdrawal deal to a microwave meal, while BBC presenter Andrew Neil teased Johnson that it was not too late to agree to an “oven-ready” interview.
Johnson and his party went on to win a landslide victory over Jeremy Corbyn and Labour in December’s general election.
In January, Johnson marked the signing of the Brexit withdrawal agreement with an image of him flanked by Union Jack flags.
He said: “This signature heralds a new chapter in our nation’s history.”
But eight months down the line, the government appears to be no closer to a trade agreement with the EU.
On Friday, MEP and Brexit critic Guy Verhofstadt mocked Johnson’s “oven-ready” deal, saying instead it is a “recipe for chaos”.