Brexit: Eustice defends threat to override EU withdrawal agreement as just tidying up ‘loose ends’ – live | Politics

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Good morning. Earlier in the year you would often hear commentators speculating about the prospects of the UK facing an autumn/winter nightmare scenario, where all the upheaval of a no-deal Brexit was combined with a second wave of coronavirus. We’re not there yet, but this morning the two main stories on the agenda do look like signposts towards that future.

On the Covid front, the government is responding to the news that yesterday almost 3,000 people in the UK tested positive for Covid-19, a 50% increase in a single day and the highest daily total since May.

And, on the Brexit front, Boris Johnson has made two moves which, together, amount to a significant hardening of his stance in the UK-EU trade talks. Perhaps it’s just tough posturing that will encourage the EU to compromise, paving the way for a deal, but if so that’s a high-risk strategy, and it’s just as probable that this will accelerate the slide to a no deal.

First, Johnson has set 15 October as an absolute deadline for the end of the trade talks. In a statement last night he said:


The EU have been very clear about the timetable. I am too. There needs to be an agreement with our European friends by the time of the European council on 15 October if it’s going to be in force by the end of the year. So there is no sense in thinking about timelines that go beyond that point. If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on.

Second – and this is much, much more provocative and unexpected – the government has confirmed that it is preparing legislation that would apparently allow it to override parts of the withdrawal agreement, the legally-binding treaty signed with the EU in January. Here is our story on the news, which was originally a Financial Times scoop.

We have not seen the new legislation, the UK internal market bill, yet, but those briefing the FT were clear that it would override parts of the withdrawal agreement relating to the Northern Ireland protocol (the rules keeping Northern Ireland in the single market, effectively putting a customs border down the Irish Sea). The FT says:


It is a very blunt instrument,” said one of those familiar with the matter. “The bill will explicitly say the government reserves the right to set its own regime, directly setting up UK law in opposition with obligations under the withdrawal agreement, and in full cognisance that this will breach international law.”

But this morning George Eustice, the environment secretary, claimed that the UK was not ignoring the agreement and that the new law would just tidy up “loose ends” where the agreement was ambiguous. When it was put to him the he government was abandoning a treaty it signed in January, he replied:


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.

And there is negotiations ongoing through something called the joint committee process … a separate process to the main negotiation on a future trade agreement.

But, it has always been recognised that that joint committee process was needed to iron out a few remaining technical details as to how the Northern Ireland protocol would work.

And it may well be the case that once that joint committee process itself has concluded there remain one, or two, loose ends where there is a requirement for legal certainty. And where the government may need to legislate to provide that legal clarity and certainty.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9am: Matt Hancock takes part in an LBC phone-in.

12pm: Downing Street lobby briefing.

12.15pm: Nicola Sturgeon gives a Scottish government coronavirus briefing.

2.30pm: Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

3.30pm: Urgent questions and statements in the Commons. Priti Patel, the home secretary, is expected to make a Commons statement on the Extinction Rebellion newspaper print press blockades, but we may also get statements or UQs on Brexit and coronavirus.

Politics Live has been doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog for some time and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, for the foreseeable future it will still mostly focus on coronavirus. But we will be covering non-Covid stories too, like Brexit, and where they seem more important and interesting, they will take precedence.

Here is our global coronavirus live blog.

If you want to follow me or contact me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter.

Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Brexit: Eustice defends threat to override EU withdrawal agreement as just tidying up ‘loose ends’ – live | Politics

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