Britain’s plan to press ahead on Monday with legislation that would break an earlier Brexit deal is a “negotiating tactic” which should not distract EU negotiators, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Sunday.
Britain’s upper house of parliament last month voted to remove the controversial clauses from the Internal Market Bill, but the government intends to reinstate them in the lower chamber on Monday, just as trade talks reach crunch time.
“The problem linked to those pieces of legislation may find a way of disappearing if we can get the negotiation agreed on the substance,” Coveney told RTE radio.
The British government has openly admitted that the clauses are a breach of international law. The European Union has repeatedly expressed its anger over the legislation, and the issue has contributed to acrimony in the trade talks.
The Internal Market Bill prompted fury in the EU when it was first introduced because it unpicked the terms of a divorce agreement both sides signed in January.
London says the offending clauses are a “safety net” to prevent the EU from interpreting complex customs agreements between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, in a way that would limit internal UK trade.
The timing of the bill’s return to the House of Commons is acutely sensitive as Johnson is due to speak to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday evening, potentially to either agree on a deal or agree not to sign one.
The Financial Times reported that there would be a way out for Johnson if he felt that a deal was close but the clauses were standing in the way.
The House of Commons is all but certain to vote in favour of reinstating the clauses as Johnson has a large majority. But the bill will then return to the upper chamber, the House of Lords, on Wednesday.
The FT reported that it would be open to Johnson to simply allow the Lords to remove the clauses for a second time, and refrain from reinstating them for the final reading in the House of Commons.
The FT report said that whether or not to push the point and stick with the law-breaking clauses would come down to a personal choice by Johnson.
“The PM is going to have to make this call personally,” the FT quoted a government official as saying. “He’s incredibly forceful about the need to have a safety net. But safety nets can always be taken away when they’re not needed.”