EU accuses Britain of torpedoing Brexit deal

European Union leaders have accused Britain of throwing political grenades across the channel by threatening to undermine its divorce deal with the EU. The so-called Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was signed last year to allow Britain’s orderly exit from the bloc.

By Stefan J. Bos

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is getting impatient with the European Union. His government suggests that there will be no trade deal at all with the EU if there is no trade deal by mid-October.

Although Britain formally left the EU in January, it has followed Brussels’ rules during a transition period. But those rules end in December – while discussions over a long-term trade agreement continue.

Brussels wants Britain to stick mainly to EU rules such as workers’ rights, environmental regulations, and state aid to businesses.

But Britain argues the whole point of Brexit was to break free from following standard rules.

The EU also demands ongoing access to British waters for fishing. But Britain says that’s not possible as it is now an independent coastal state. However, Britain still wants access to EU markets to sell its fish.

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Another contentious issue is who will enforce any deal and the European Court of Justice’s future role.
Amid the disagreements, British ministers are already preparing legislation that would override a crucial part of last year’s EU withdrawal agreement.

The move could change the nature of new Northern Ireland customs arrangements, which were intended to prevent the return of checks at the border with the Irish Republic.

Britain’s government said it was a standby plan in case trade talks fail. But the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has made clear the European Union won’t be intimidated by what critics view as Britain’s attempt to torpedo the agreement.

“A precise implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement is also the only way to avoid the hard border on the island of Ireland and preserve the all-island economy,” Barnier stressed.

“It is the only way tho preserve to the integrity of the single market and all its guarantees for consumer protection, public and animal health by ensuring all the necessary checks and controls for goods entering Northern Ireland. And of course, it is a precondition for us, the EU, and the UK to forge a meaningful partnership build on trust for the future,” the negotiator added.

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However, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested that the EU refuses to accept Britain as an independent nation.

He warned that Britain isn’t afraid to exit the EU without a special trade deal.  “We’ve actually got the issues boiled down to two outstanding bones of contention,” he told reporters. “There is a good deal there for the EU; we’d love to do that free trade agreement – and if not, we’ll fall back on Australian-style rules,” Raab added.

“I think this week is an important moment for the EU to really effectively recognize that those two points of principles are not something we can just haggle away- They are the very reasons we are leaving the EU,” he explained.

“But we want a positive relationship and the arm of friendship and goodwill is extended,” the top diplomat stressed. “It is up to the EU to decide whether they want to reciprocate.”

Talks are due to resume this week.