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Brexit: Boris Johnson moves to reassure his party over controversial Bill

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British prime minister Boris Johnson will address the Conservative Party later on Friday to say that Britain is committed to implementing the divorce deal with the European Union but must create a “safety net” to protect Northern Ireland, his spokesman said.

Mr Johnson’s decision to proceed with legislation that has plunged trade talks with the EU into crisis has prompted concern among some Conservatives, who fear that Britain’s reputation would be damaged if it is seen to break international law.

“The PM will be speaking to Conservative MPs (members of parliament) later on this afternoon about the (Internal Market)bill.,” the spokesman said.

“He will reiterate the UK’s commitment to implementing the Northern Ireland protocol and the joint committee process with the hope that an agreement remains possible within that framework.

“But he will also be setting out that as a responsible government we must provide a safety net which removes any ambiguity and ensures that the government can always deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.”

Earlier, Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne, said: “It is completely wrong to say that this is to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

“In fact, the opposite is the case.

“I think that what should happen now is that the UK should withdraw these particular legal provisions that they propose through an Act through Parliament.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added: “What they propose to do is put at serious risk the basis of the peace on the island of Ireland.

“And the basis of our trade, and unfettered trade, cross border in goods which is absolutely essential for that peace.”

The European Union stepped up planning for a “no-deal” Brexit on Friday after Mr Johnson’s government refused to revoke a plan to break the divorce treaty that Brussels says will sink four years of talks.

Britain said explicitly this week that it plans to break international law by breaching parts of the Withdrawal Agreement treaty that it signed in January, when it formally left the bloc.

Britain says the move is aimed at clarifying ambiguities, but it caused a new crisis in talks less than four months before a post-Brexit transition period ends in December.

The EU has demanded that Britain scrap by the end of this month the plan to breach the divorce treaty. Britain has refused, saying its parliament is sovereign above international law.

“As the United Kingdom looks to what kind of future trade relationship it wants with the European Union, a prerequisite for that is honouring agreements that are already in place,” said Pascal Donohoe, chairman of euro zone finance ministers.

“It is imperative that the government of the United Kingdom respond back to the call from the (European)Commission.”

As the atmosphere soured between London and Brussels, Japan and Britain said they had reached agreement in principle on a bilateral trade deal that meant 99 per cent of the Britain’s exports to Japan would be tariff-free.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday, after talks in London, that the bloc was increasing its planning for a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year after trade talks made little progress.

“The UK has not engaged in a reciprocal way on fundamental EU principles and interests,” Mr Barnier said. “Nobody should underestimate the practical, economic and social consequences of a ‘no deal’ scenario.”

Britain rejected Barnier’s view.

“We don’t recognise the suggestion that we’ve not engaged, we’ve been engaged in talks pretty consistently for many months now,” a British source said.

“The problem is the EU seems to define engagement as accepting large elements of their position rather than being engaged in discussions.”

Investment banks have increased their estimates of the chances of a messy end to Britain’s exit from the trading and political bloc it first joined in 1973, and sterling has fallen against the dollar and the euro.

Mr Barnier’s team will brief the 27 members of the EU on the progress of trade talks on Friday. – Reuters and PA

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