For more than four years, we have become accustomed to rolling rounds of Brexit negotiations with little information emerging beyond carefully crafted public statements, punctuated by an explosion of activity once every few months.
But as the row rumbled on over the UK’s plan to break international law to potentially renege on the withdrawal agreement (WA) it signed this year, negotiations spilled online in an extraordinary public spat.
A reminder is needed at this point - both sides have around a month left to conclude negotiations or the UK will default to economically damaging WTO rules for trade with the EU when the standstill transition period ends on December 31.
The row came after Barnier on Friday demanded “more clarity” from the UK about its biosecurity controls if it wants to get the automatic right to export animal products into the EU when the transition ends and Britain stops following Brussels rules.
The EU’s reluctance to grant the UK a “third-country listing” to allow food imports sparked concerns in No.10 that mainland Britain could be blocked from sending animal products to Northern Ireland - because the province will follow EU rules in this area to maintain an invisible border with the Republic, under the terms of the WA.
But Barnier hit back at the suggestions WA’s Northern Ireland protocol was a “threat to the integrity of the UK”, again demanding more detail about Britain’s plans for biosecurity rules, and insisting that “sticking to facts is also essential”.
Protocol on IE/NI is not a threat to the integrity of the UK. We agreed this delicate compromise with @BorisJohnson & his gov in order to protect peace & stability on island of Ireland. We could not have been clearer about the consequences of #Brexit [1/2]— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) September 13, 2020
Sticking to facts is also essential. A case in point: 🇪🇺 is not refusing to list 🇬🇧 as a third country for food imports (SPS). To be listed, we need to know in full what a country’s rules are, incl. for imports. The same objective process applies to all listed countries [2/2]— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) September 13, 2020
Frost then hit-back in an extraordinary seven-tweet thread, in which he accused the EU of potentially making it “automatically illegal” for Northern Ireland to import food from Great Britain (mainland UK).
1/7 I would like to make a few comments and state a few facts, in my capacity as the PM's negotiator in the current and last autumn's talks. https://t.co/qJ2hGUf5RM— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) September 13, 2020
Taking aim at Barnier, Frost stressed that he wanted to “state a few facts”, stressing the EU “knows perfectly well all the details of our food standards rules” because the UK is operating under Brussels regulations now.
He also claimed the EU had warned the UK “explicitly” that if it is not granted third-country listing “we will not be able to move food to Northern Ireland”.
6/7 The EU's position is that listing is needed for Great Britain only, not Northern Ireland. So if GB were not listed, it would be automatically illegal for NI to import food products from GB.— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) September 13, 2020
Frost concluded: “I hope the EU will yet think better of this. It obviously makes it no easier to negotiate a good free trade agreement and the solid future relationship which we all want.”
It comes after the EU accused Boris Johnson of damaging trust in Brexit negotiations with his law-breaking Internal Market Bill, which would give ministers the power to renege on sections of the WA governing trade in Northern Ireland.
The proposals have sparked a major Tory rebellion which threatens to derail the legislation when it comes to the Commons for votes this week.
The EU has said the UK must drop the Bill by the end of the month or risk negotiations on a long-term trade deal collapsing.
On Sunday, justice secretary Robert Buckland suggested he could quit if the powers in the Bill are ever used to break international law.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.