Tory minister says EU 'in denial' over UK's independence as no-deal Brexit looms

Environment Secretary George Eustice during the press conference at Downing Street, London giving the latest updated on the Coronavirus pandemic.
Environment secretary George Eustice says the EU is 'in denial' about the UK's independence. (PA)

A government minister has said the EU is “in denial” over the UK’s independence as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looms.

It comes as ministers are drawing up plans that would override a key part of its withdrawal agreement with the EU.

The government is preparing legislation that would eliminate the requirement for new customs arrangements in Northern Ireland designed to prevent the return of border checks.

Boris 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.

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The prime minister will say later that both sides should “move on” if an agreement is not reached by that date.

On Monday, environment secretary George Eustice accused the EU of being “in denial” about the UK’s independence.

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The government’s move, first reported by the Financial Times, was branded “an act of immense bad faith” by the Labour Party, who accused the prime minister of “threatening to renege on the UK’s legal obligations”.

But Johnson is expected to say later on Monday that completing the UK’s exit from the EU without a trade deal would be a “good outcome”.

Northern Ireland deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill said any threat of backtracking would be a “treacherous betrayal which would inflict irreversible harm on the all-Ireland economy and the Good Friday Agreement”.

Asked if the Brexit deal could be ripped up if a new trade agreement was not forthcoming, Eustice told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No. We are not saying that at all.

“We have a withdrawal agreement, and that includes Northern Ireland protocol. And we are committed to implementing that.”

However, he said ongoing negotiations through a joint committee process are needed to “iron out a few remaining technical details as to how the Northern Ireland protocol would work”

He described these as “loose ends where there is a requirement for legal certainty”.

He added: “The government may need to legislate to provide that legal clarity and certainty.”

Asked about the prime minister’s assertion that a no-deal Brexit would be a “good outcome”, Eustice replied: "It will be a good outcome in that we will have regained our independence as a country and we'll be making our own laws again.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street, Westminster, London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, the first after the summer recess.
Boris Johnson has issued a deadline of 15 October for a Brexit trade deal to be reached. (PA)

He said the EU could have granted the UK a trade deal similar the one it has with Canada, which eliminates most tariffs on the goods they trade.

"We've gone into these negotiations asking for something that's very realistic and reasonable, something the EU's already offered Canada,” said Eustice.

"That's an agreement the EU could have done but I think, because they are in denial about what it means to be an independent country, they've been reluctant to do it to date.

"But they still got time to do it."