Brussels is standing firm on its demand for the UK to abandon plans to override key elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, despite ministers agreeing a compromise with Tory rebels.
Boris Johnson was forced to agree to table an amendment to the UK Internal Market Bill, giving MPs a vote before the Government can use powers which would breach the deal brokered with the EU last year.
His controversial plan to break international law angered scores of his backbenchers, and prompted the European Commission to demand the provisions in the Bill relating to the Withdrawal Agreement be dropped by the end of the month.
But despite the Government’s compromise, Brussels said on Thursday that its position had not changed and it still wanted the clauses to be withdrawn from the legislation.
Eric Mamer, chief spokesman for the European Commission, told a press briefing: “We have as you know set out a position extremely clearly, it is in our statement, and it relates to those clauses being withdrawn from the law.
“That position has not changed and we have asked the UK to do this at the earliest possible convenience, and by the end of September at the latest. That has not changed.”
The spokesman also insisted the EU carries out negotiations in “good faith”, after the Prime Minister told MPs on Wednesday he did not believe they had acted as such in the Brexit talks.
Mr Mamer said: “I think that Michel Barnier showed, in the context of the negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement, that even on extremely complex and politically sensitive issues the Commission and indeed the EU negotiate in perfectly good faith.”
🇪🇺🇬🇧 President @vonderleyen:
“Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership.”
“The Withdrawal Agreement took three years to negotiate. We worked relentlessly. We will never backtrack. This agreement has been ratified by this House and the House of Commons.”
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) September 16, 2020
It came as US presidential election frontrunner Joe Biden insisted the Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland cannot become a “casualty” of Brexit.
The Democratic Party nominee for the White House said a future trade deal between the US and UK could only happen if the peace agreement was respected.
Mr Biden tweeted: “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit.
“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”
In response, Downing Street said the Government was working with US politicians to make sure people understood its position.
“We continue to remain absolutely committed to no hard border and no border infrastructure between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland,” a Number 10 spokesman said.
We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit.
Any trade deal between the U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period. https://t.co/Ecu9jPrcHL
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 16, 2020
“And we will continue to engage with our US partners on a bipartisan basis to ensure that our positions are understood.”
Asked if Mr Biden was wrong, the spokesman said: “We will continue to work with our US partners to ensure our position is understood, but the whole point of this, as the PM has set out, is to make sure the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is upheld.”
Meanwhile, Daniel Ferrie, a European Commission spokesman, said the EU is “not threatening food supply to Northern Ireland”.
He tweeted: “We are committed to the faithful implementation of the Protocol. EU rules will continue to apply to food imports into NI. This avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland. The UK agreed to this.”
It comes amid Government concerns that food imports may be blocked from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, the UK and European Union made “some limited progress” during informal discussions in Brussels over a possible trade deal, according to the Government.
“The UK’s negotiating team had useful informal discussions with the EU this week as we seek to reach an agreement by mid-October on our future relationship,” said a UK Government spokesman.
“These covered a broad range of issues and some limited progress was made, but significant gaps remain in key areas, including fisheries and subsidies.
“We will continue to work hard to bridge those gaps in talks next week, without compromising our fundamental position of being an independent country.”