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downing street

The UK government is looking to row back on key aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol, in new legislation to be published on Wednesday. 

The move has rocked negotiations, restarting tomorrow (Tuesday, 8 September) for the future UK-EU trade relationship. 

Internal Market Bill

Whitehall sources told the FT that Downing Street will publish the Internal Market Bill on Wednesday with clauses that “override” aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement related to subsidies and customs obligations for Northern Irish firms. 

Downing Street “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,” the FT source said. 

Overriding the NI Protocol 

Two key requirements of the Northern Ireland Protocol – which was developed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland – would be breached by the reported clauses in the new legislation: 

  • the British government needing to notify Brussels of any state-aid decisions affecting firms in the region; and 
  • the obligation for Northern Irish firms to complete export summary declarations when sending goods to Great Britain. 

According to the FT, the Internal Market Bill will narrowly define the obligation to notify the EU on subsidy arrangements, with the business secretary alone given powers to decide whether to notify the bloc or not – something which Brussels will dispute. 

The legislation will also prevent Northern Irish firms from being required to file export summary declarations when sending goods into Great Britain. 

Crunch point 

The revelation has rocked the negotiations, with the penultimate round of talks due to start tomorrow. 

An EU diplomat told Politico that the UK would “undermine its international standing” and harm international trust in the country’s ability to “implement international treaties” if it were to go ahead with the reported plans.  

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he is “worried” by the news, while his British counterpart David Frost told the Mail on Sunday that the UK will “not blink” or become a “client state” of the EU by accepting EU demands on fishing rights and state-aid. 

The government this morning rejected claims that it plans to ignore aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement, the Guardian report, saying it is “taking limited and reasonable steps to clarify specific elements” of the Protocol. 

October deadline 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will today make a statement saying a deal needs to be reached before the EU leaders’ summit on 15 October, according to Politico. The UK and EU should “move on” if an agreement cannot be reached, he will say. 

The October summit has long been touted as the deadline for the talks in order for there to be sufficient time for a deal to be ratified in European parliaments before the end of the transition period.