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He claimed to be on the brink of walking out of the negotiations on a UK-EU trade deal in protest at the move, accusing the Prime Minister of ripping up his promise not to allow a hard border in Northern Ireland. But Mr Johnson was standing firm last night and their bitter exchanges left the talks teetering on a knife-edge. Tory officials at Conservative Campaign HQ yesterday sent an email to party supporters setting out the defiant statement the Prime Minister made at the weekend, ahead of today’s round of formal talks. Quoting Mr Johnson, the subject line of the email said: “I will not back down.”
The angry row erupted after details of the Government’s Internal Markets Bill emerged.
It is being drafted to set out clear customs arrangements if the UK’s transition out of the EU single market at the end of the year takes place without a trade deal agreed with Brussels.
M Barnier claimed the proposals undermined protocols in the Withdrawal Agreement signed by the Prime Minister in October meant to uphold the Northern Ireland peace process.
He said: “This protocol is a condition for preserving peace and for protecting the integrity of the single market.
“It’s also a pre-condition for confidence between us because everything that has been signed in the past must be respected.”
His spokesman suggested that the diplomat will walk away from talks if the UK breaks the Withdrawal Agreement commitments.
He said: “The EU will be ready in the event of a no-deal scenario to trade with the UK on World Trade Organisation terms as of January 1.”
Other senior EU figures expressed outrage at the British move.
Bernd Lange, the chairman of the European Parliament’s trade committee, said: “I’m shocked. That’s not how you deal with negotiating partners. I haven’t seen anything like it in decades.
“We will not allow ourselves to be blackmailed. There were signs that the joint political declaration for Boris Johnson was not worth the paper it was on. Now he’s said it.
“Boris Johnson is thus turning the negotiations up to now and the serious efforts of the European Union into a farce.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted that sticking to the Withdrawal Agreement promises was a “prerequisite” for agreeing a trade deal.
She added: “I trust the British Government to implement the agreement, an obligation under international law and a prerequisite for any future partnership.”
Another EU diplomat said: “If the UK is going full North Korea mode, into isolation, then this fits the pattern. But I cannot see global Britain pursuing this route – let’s wait and see.” Whitehall officials insisted the Internal Market Bill, due to be published in Parliament tomorrow, was needed to “clarify” customs rules in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
They said the law, to ensure free flow of goods between the four parts of the UK, would not undermine Northern Ireland guarantees.
One official said: “The Government is completely committed, as it always has been, to implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol in good faith. If we don’t take these steps we face legal confusion at the end of the year.”
A No10 spokesman said that the Prime Minister would press ahead with the legislation.
He added: “We will continue to work with the EU in the Joint Committee to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“However, as a responsible government, we cannot allow the peace process or the UK’s internal market to inadvertently be compromised.
“So we are taking limited and reasonable steps to clarify specific elements of the protocol in domestic law to remove any ambiguity and to ensure the Government is able to deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.”
Mr Johnson’s spokesman insisted the PM wanted to “work hard” for a trade deal.
“But if we leave with an Australian-style trading relationship, he is absolutely confident we will flourish.”
In a phone call yesterday Mr Johnson told French President Emmanuel Macron of the urgent need to conclude the trade talks.
But France’s European affairs minister Clement Beaune warned afterwards there was a “high risk” of a no-deal.
Ahead of today’s eighth round of talks, Mr Johnson’s Brexit negotiator Lord Frost said: “I will drive home our clear message that we must make progress this week if we are to reach an agreement in time.”
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