Boris Johnson offered Brussels a last-minute olive branch by pledging to drop his threat to break international law if a trade deal is struck.

The Prime Minister vowed to remove several highly contentious clauses contained within legislation that would have breached parts of the Withdrawal Agreement that he signed last year.

Under provisions contained within the Internal Markets Bill, Mr Johnson had threatened to tear up parts of the Northern Irish protocol agreed between Brussels and London in a bid to ensure unfettered trade continued between Britain and Northern Ireland.

The move had enraged EU leaders, who warned Mr Johnson he had sown significant mistrust with his actions, potentially bringing an end to the Brexit negotiations.

Removing offending clauses

Withdrawal Agreement: Boris Johnson drops threat to break international law for Brexit trade deal
A no-deal Brexit could lead to delays at ports like Dover (Photo: Getty)

But in a significant concession, the Prime Minister agreed to remove the offending clauses in what is hoped could clear the way for the broader talks. In a statement, the Government said the UK and EU have “worked constructively together through the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee.

“Discussions continue to progress and final decisions are expected in the coming days. If the solutions being considered in those discussions are agreed, the UK Government would be prepared to remove clause 44 of the UK Internal Market Bill, concerning export declarations.

“The UK Government would also be prepared to deactivate clauses 45 and 47, concerning state aid, such that they could be used only when consistent with the UK’s rights and obligations under international law.”

Withdrawal Agreement: Boris Johnson drops threat to break international law for Brexit trade deal

Ministers said they would “review” the Taxation Bill that contains similar “safety net” provisions to allow the Government to decide which goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland would be “at risk” of moving into the Single Market. The Government intends to table the legislation today, however.

MPs voted in favour of reinstating the “notwithstanding” clauses in the Internal Market Bill, however, after they had been removed from the legislation in the House of Lords.

‘Preserving our integrity’

Green MP Caroline Lucas raised concerns about the UK breaking international law, asking whether the Government “see the irony of UK negoatiators trying to persuade our EU counterparts of our good faith,” while the PM “is asking Parliament to vote to break international law.”

Cabinet Minister Penny Mordaunt said the “trust in which the United Kingdom is renowned is deep” and it was “well-understood” the move was an insurance policy to “preserve the integrity of our country.”

Key players

The UK Prime Minister is keen for a trade agreement, in order to avoid the economic harm of a no-deal outcome and damage to his reputation as a successful dealmaker forged last year. But he is also anxious not to be seen to undermine the UK’s sovereignty, which would lose him the trust of the Brexiteers who brought him to power.

Ursula von der Leyen

The European Commission President does not want her time at the top of the EU to be dominated by rows with the UK, as happened to her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker. But she also needs to be seen as a reliable defender of member states’ interests and protector of the single market.

The most hard-line among all European leaders, France’s
President, believes that giving too much ground to the UK is a greater danger
than a no-deal outcome. He has pressed the argument that talks can simply restart next year if necessary.

Angela Merkel

Germany’s Chancellor is stepping down next year and views Brexit as a distraction from the European achievements she wants to be her legacy, primarily the creation of a centralised budget which will knit together EU states more closely as they recover from Covid-19.

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