Senior officials from the European Union (EU) and Britain met in London on Thursday for hastily arranged talks over a controversial Brexit bill as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson intended to override key parts of the Withdrawal Agreement previously agreed with Brussels.
British Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove talked with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic in an “extraordinary meeting.”
Sefcovic told Gove that violating the Withdrawal Agreement would break international law and jeopardize trade talks, according to an EU statement.
“In no uncertain terms” that the “timely and full implementation” of the divorce deal is “a legal obligation,” said the statement.
Sefcovic urged the British government to withdraw these measures that break international law from the bill “by the end of the month,” adding that the Withdrawal Agreement “contains a number of mechanisms and legal remedies to address violations of the legal obligations contained in the text, which the EU will not be shy in using.”
Issuing its own robust response, the British government said it would “discharge its treaty obligations in good faith,” but added that “in the difficult and highly exceptional circumstances in which we find ourselves, it is important to remember the fundamental principle of parliamentary sovereignty.”
Rejecting Britain’s arguments that the bill is designed to protect peace in Northern Ireland, the EU argued that “it does the opposite.”
Sefcovic said that by presenting the draft United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, the British government has damaged the EU’s trust which the UK now has to re-establish.
Britain on Wednesday published the controversial bill, which overrides elements of Johnson’s Brexit deal with Brussels, despite a senior minister explicitly acknowledging that the plan would breach international law.
The new bill will be formally debated by MPs in the British parliament for the first time on Sept. 14. It is intended to ensure Northern Ireland can continue to enjoy unfettered access to markets in the rest of Britain.
The bill was published amid the EU’s growing anger after Britain brushed aside warnings from the regional bloc that breaching the treaty would prevent any trade deal being struck. The British government has said it is prepared to walk away with no deal if progress is not made soon.
Professor Mark Elliott, public law expert at Cambridge University, described the British government’s response as “utterly risible,” and that Britain, like every other state, is required in international law to abide by its treaty obligations.
“The UK may have left the EU, but it has not left the community of nations or the rules-based international order,” said Elliott.
Britain’s membership of the EU ended Jan. 31, but as part of a transition period it is sticking with the bloc’s rules until Dec. 31.
Both sides have said a future trade deal needs to be agreed by mid-October to enable it to be approved ahead of Jan. 1, 2021. If there is no deal in place by then, Britain will trade with the EU on WTO terms.