As post-Brexit talks resume, Boris Johnson suffers setback in House of Lords

An anti-Brexit protester, outside the conference center where negotiations between the Twenty-Seven and the British government are taking place, in London, UK on November 9.

As a new crucial week of negotiations between London and Brussels on their future post-Brexit trade relations begins, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a setback in the upper house of Parliament on the evening of Monday 9 November.

After a series of votes, the Lords strongly decided to remove from a bill of the Conservative government the provisions which would allow it to override some of its commitments, in particular as regards the Northern Irish protocol concluded with the ‘European Union (EU). This was one of the thorniest subjects during negotiations a year ago to find a solution which avoids the return of a physical border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the Twenty-Seven.

Read also the report: Brexit remains a toxic topic in Northern Ireland

“The government should come to its senses, accept the withdrawal of these offensive clauses and start rebuilding our international reputation”Labor opposition leader Angela Smith in the House of Lords said after the vote.

But no sooner had the Lords spoken on Monday evening than a government spokesperson announced that the government would reintroduce the discarded clauses when the text came back to MPs in the House of Commons, where Boris Johnson has a very large majority – the text had already been adopted by 340 votes to 256.

These clauses represent “A legal safety net to protect integrity” of the internal market between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as the peace process which ended three decades of violence, in 1998, underlined the spokesperson in a statement.

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Insurance in the event of failure

“If the UK passes a law designed to violate international law (…), then there will be no commercial agreement ”, for his part, tweeted Monday evening the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney.

“The EU cannot ratify a new deal while the UK is legislating to violate a previous deal (…), trust and good faith matter. “

Denouncing a violation of the Brexit treaty, Brussels had launched an infringement procedure facing the refusal of London to withdraw the disputed provisions. In the event of a trade deal, they would no longer be relevant, as Mr Johnson’s government views them as insurance in the event of failure.

Delicate subject between London and Washington

But, in the midst of negotiations, the eruption of this text had provoked a surge of fever. There are only a few days left in London and Brussels to try to bridge the differences in their negotiations, launched after the UK officially left the EU on January 31, 2020.

Mid-November appears to be the deadline in order to be able to ratify in time an agreement that would enter into force on 1er January 2021, at the end of the transition period put in place to allow time to negotiate an agreement.

The British text is also a delicate subject between the Conservative leader and the President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden, as London seeks to negotiate a free trade agreement with Washington.

Also read the analysis: After Joe Biden’s US presidential victory, UK fears isolation

“We cannot allow the Good Friday agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland, to become a victim of Brexit”, warned in September the former US vice-president, who proudly displays his Irish roots.

Customs duties and quotas

European negotiator Michel Barnier arrived in London on Monday to continue discussions, as the Covid-19 crisis hits the economy hard. “We are redoubling our efforts to reach an agreement on the future”, he tweeted on Monday morning.

Read also the interview with Carolyn Fairbairn, the patron saint of British bosses: “In the midst of a pandemic, we cannot afford a Brexit without an agreement”

The envoy of the Twenty-Seven identified three “Keys” to unblock negotiations, including “Respect for EU autonomy and British sovereignty”. Mr Barnier also underlined the need to “Solid guarantees of free and fair trade and competition” and a “Stable and reciprocal access to markets and fishing possibilities in the interest of both parties”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Mr Johnson took stock of the talks on Saturday, noting “Big differences”, in particular on fisheries and the guarantees demanded by the EU in terms of competition. London could show flexibility on fishing, however, hinted Monday, the British Environment Minister, George Eustice, citing the possibility of agreements that “Could cover two, three years for example”.

In the absence of an agreement, trade between the United Kingdom and the EU would be governed by the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), synonymous with tariffs and quotas.

Le Monde with AFP and Reuters


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