Chances of Brexit deal fading every day, EU Commission chief says (Reuters)
- The head of the European Commission, today said that the chances of reaching a trade deal with Britain were fading by the day as the British government pushes ahead with moves that would breach their divorce treaty.
- The British government announced draft legislation last week which it acknowledges would violate its international legal obligations and undercut parts of the divorce deal it signed before Britain formally left the European Union in January.
- Brussels wants Prime Minister Boris Johnson to scrap what is known as the Internal Market Bill, saying it could sink talks on future trade arrangements before Britain finally leaves the EU’s orbit when a status quo transition period ends in December. Johnson has refused.
- “With every day that passes, the chances of a timely agreement do start to fade,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, the EU executive. In a speech to the European Parliament, she said the divorce agreement “cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied. This is a matter of law, trust and good faith … Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership,” she said.
- Johnson has said the bill was essential to counter “absurd” threats from Brussels including that London be required to put up trade barriers between Britain and its province of Northern Ireland and that the EU would impose a food blockade. Such steps, he said, would threaten the unity of the United Kingdom.
US-UK trade deal in danger if Good Friday agreement jeopardised, Democrats warn (The Guardian)
- The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, is facing a growing backlash in the US Congress after senior Democrats warned they would scupper any future US-UK trade deal if the UK does anything to jeopardise the Good Friday agreement in an attempt to leave the European Union on its own terms.
- Raab flew to Washington to try to repair relations with pro-Irish Democrats, including the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the chairman of the House ways and means committee, Richard Neal. The tide of opinion in Congress is moving fast against the UK after a lobbying campaign by the Irish embassy.
- Four senior congressmen in a joint statement warned the UK’s plans “could have disastrous consequences for the Good Friday agreement and the broader process to maintain peace on the island of Ireland”. They added: “Many in the Congress and the US consider the issue of the Good Friday agreement and a potential US-UK free trade agreement are inextricably linked.”
Brexit freight system ‘won’t be ready on time’ (BBC)
- A new freight management system will not be ready when the EU transition period ends, an industry body has warned.
- The Smart Freight system, which is seen as vital for preventing delays after the Brexit transition on 1 January, will only be in a beta – or test – version. However, the government insists it will be a fully operational digital service. It has reassured industry that the system will be operational by December.
- The Smart Freight system ensures that trucks are carrying the correct documentation before they travel to ports. The new system is designed to reduce delays at ports, and to better manage traffic into Dover and queues of lorries building up along the M2 and M20 motorways in Kent.
- Truck drivers could face a fine if they arrive at ports without the proper documentation, but the government insists this will be a last resort, and unnecessary if they follow the rules.
Johnson says EU may not be negotiating in good faith (BBC)
- Boris Johnson has told MPs he believes the EU may not be negotiating with the UK in good faith. The PM was explaining why he wants to overwrite parts of the Brexit deal he signed with the EU in January. He said it was to prevent the EU behaving in an “unreasonable” way if the UK fails to agree a trade deal.
- Pressed by Labour’s Hilary Benn on whether he thought the EU was negotiating in good faith, he said: “I don’t believe they are.”
- This contradicted Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who earlier told MPs he believed the EU was acting in good faith.
- Mr Johnson told the Liaison Committee, a panel of senior backbench MPs, that a no-deal scenario was “not what this country wants” and “it’s not what our EU friends and partners want from us”. “Therefore I have every hope and expectation that that won’t be the outcome.”
- It comes as the PM seeks to head off a potential rebellion by Tory MPs over his plan to rewrite parts of the withdrawal agreement.