Boris Johnson will on Monday ask MPs to vote for legislative clauses to allow ministers to renege on the Brexit withdrawal agreement, despite warnings that the move could wreck trade talks with the European Union.
The House of Lords removed the clauses from the Internal Market Bill but environment secretary George Eustice said MPs should restore them.
He told Sky News the clauses were important as an insurance policy for Britain, particularly if the current negotiations end without a deal.
“Where the joint committee process between the UK and the EU fails to come up with clarity about how the Northern Ireland protocol should be interpreted, it’s absolutely crucial that the UK government has the powers to provide legal clarity,” he said.
The British government has blamed Brussels for the impasse that saw negotiations paused over the weekend, asserting that the EU introduced fresh demands last week; a claim the European side has dismissed as untrue.
Mr Johnson is due to speak to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Monday evening to take stock of progress in the talks that resumed in Brussels on Sunday.
Mr Eustice said the talks were now in their final days and that the prime minister would soon have to decide if a deal is possible or if Britain should prepare to end the transition period without it.
“If the ambience warms up again and actually great progress is made and it’s just about sorting out the detail well then you can always find more time, you can always extend. But I think unless we can resolve these quite fundamental divergences at the moment then you know, we are going to have to take a position in the next few days,” he told the BBC.
Mr Johnson’s hour-long call with Ms Von der Leyen on Saturday failed to resolve the outstanding differences on fisheries, level playing field guarantees and how to enforce the agreement. On fisheries, Mr Eustice said he saw a clear space for compromise.
“There are precedents in fisheries negotiations. For instance, we do it quite regularly with the mackerel negotiations in the North Sea to have a multi-annual agreement. Maybe running for three years where there’s an understanding around a particular level of access and an understanding around sharing agreements.
“And you revisit the science to look at the health of the stock each year. There is a precedent for that. We’re open to that sort of agreement. What we can’t do though is have a position where there’s some kind of treaty obligation on access for the long term or in perpetuity,” he said.
Although Mr Johnson has predicted that Britain will prosper without a trade deal with the EU, former prime minister Gordon Brown said failure to reach a deal would have repercussions beyond the country’s relationship with Europe.
“We would be in an economic war with Europe that would cost us very dearly. Food, drugs and everything else we’d find it difficult to get it into the country without tariffs and holdups. But we would also be in an economic war with America, because there would be no chance of trade treaty with America,” he told Sky News.
“Boris Johnson is going to end up as the most isolated prime minister in peacetime history with no friends around the world, because he has simply chosen a path of confrontation when everybody knows it is Britain’s economic interest – maybe not in the Brexiteers’ ideological interest – to get a deal and get a deal now.”