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Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under fire for attempting to reshape a Brexit deal with the EU last minute – a move which could land him in considerable hot water. The Prime Minister is facing growing condemnation as he presses ahead with a highly controversial bill that would unstitch much of the Withdrawal Agreement made with Brussel earlier in the process.
The EU has reacted with a damning assessment of the Internal Market Bill, which would throw out the safety net in place for Northern Ireland.
This is while also breaking international law – something the Government is willing to admit and go through with.
Downing St has sought to explain the situation by saying the Prime Minister did not fully understand the Withdrawal Agreement when it was agreed in 2019.
The bill has not yet been approved by parliament and has been met with backlash from many of the Prime Minister’s own MPs.
What changes does Boris want to make?
The UK Internal Market bill, published on Wednesday, would allow Britain to unilaterally interpret the Northern Ireland protocol agreed by Mr Johnson as part of the withdrawal treaty agreed with the EU last October.
It would allow Britain to insist on no export paperwork for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and to restrict the application of EU state-aid rules in the case of Northern Ireland.
Ministers also want to take powers to decide which goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland should be subject to EU tariffs — in other words, those goods “at risk” of moving across the open border into Ireland.
The Northern Ireland protocol is a system in place which means Northern Ireland will still follow the EU’s customs rules and product standards when trading with Ireland, to avoid the imposition of a hard border between the two.
This would mean checks on goods in and out would not be necessary, and the trading position remains largely the same.
The extent of checks at Northern Ireland’s ports is still to be agreed – but some unionist politicians are strongly opposed to this, fearing it damages the UK union.
Even if the UK leaves without a deal, the Northern Ireland protocol would kick in.
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The protocol is due to come into force on January 1, 2021, the end of the transition period.
Speaking to MPs during Prime Minister’s questions, Mr Johnson defended the new bill. “My job is to uphold the integrity of the UK but also to protect the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.
“And to do that, we need a legal safety net to protect our country against extreme or irrational interpretations of the protocol.”
He said: “The treaty was written in a rush and was never meant to be the final agreed text between the UK and the EU.”
“The withdrawal agreement and Northern Ireland protocol aren’t like any other treaty.
“It was agreed at pace in the most challenging possible political circumstances to deliver on a clear political decision of the British people and with the clear overriding purpose of protecting the special circumstances of Northern Ireland.”
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, is yet to comment on the revelation.
The bill has been near-universally damned by opposition MPs and many on the Tory backbenches have expressed dismay at the last-minute attempt to change the ratified Withdrawal Agreement.
The UK is heading quickly for a no-deal Brexit scenario following months of stalemate talks between negotiators.
The UK is refusing to make any concessions in talks with the EU.
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