Britain gets tough! Rees-Mogg threatens to tear up Brexit deal as EU holds UK to ransom

Lord Frost on EU's brutal refusal to renegotiate with UK

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The Brexit Opportunities Minister told a committee of MPs that if Brussels is not prepared to reform the protocol, the UK Government was within its rights to take unilateral action. He said: “We signed it [the protocol] on the basis that it would be reformed. There comes a point where we say, ‘You haven’t reformed it and therefore we are reforming it ourselves’.”

This is the latest row over the deal – with post-Brexit trading rules in Northern Ireland a contentious topic.

Both sides have argued over how the mechanism should be implemented, which has led to extremely strained relations between the two sides.

The deal agreed with the EU by Boris Johnson has created a trade border in the Irish Sea, meaning Northern Ireland still has to follow EU rules for goods trade, in order to avoid a return to a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.

Several rounds of talks with the EU to change this have failed to make meaningful progress, sending UK and EU tensions surging and leading to a growing number of Brexiteers to demand the UK Government completely tear it up.

When questioned by Brexit-supporting MPs on the EU scrutiny committee, Mr Rees-Mogg argued the UK had the sovereign right to override the deal.

He said: “The United Kingdom is much more important than any agreement we have with any foreign power. That must be the case.”

The Brexit Opportunities Minister was tight-lipped on the Government’s plans, citing sensitivities around next month’s local elections in Northern Ireland where the protocol has been heavily criticised by all pro-UK Unionist political parties.

Two Whitehall insiders told the Financial Times ministers are looking at the possibility of creating the legal framework to de-activate key parts of the protocol in certain circumstances.

The sources said “enabling” powers to override the mechanism could be used whether or not the UK Government decides to trigger Article 16, which allows either side to suspend elements of the protocol if it was causing “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.

A Government insider insisted the protocol is “still not working” and is causing serious problems in Northern Ireland.

They said: “We are exploring a range of options because this gridlock can’t go on forever, but no decisions have been made.”

Jonathan Jones QC, the UK Government’s former top lawyer who quit in 2020 in protest at the government’s attempt to unilaterally disapply the protocol, warned UK and EU relations could be damaged through any move to act unilaterally.

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He said: “The UK parliament has the sovereign right to legislate under UK law to repudiate the protocol.

“But that would, by definition, put the UK in breach of its international treaty obligations and raise the same questions about our commitment to international law and our relationship with the EU.”

During recent months, Boris Johnson’s Government – in particular former Brexit minister Lord Frost and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – has claimed the threshold to trigger Article 16 has already been reached.

The Government has so far taken that step, insisting it wants to seek a negotiated settlement.

But recent talks between the UK and EU have made little progress, and the Prime Minister has faced mounting pressure from Tory Brexiteers to trigger Article 16.

Britain’s negotiating team has so far argued the protocol is damaging the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “Our overriding priority is to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland and safeguard the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement in all its dimensions.”

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