Boris Johnson is said to be looking to ‘rip up’ parts of the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU and to override key areas of Brexit already agreed with the bloc.
In reports a government spokesman appeared to confirm, Johnson also plans to give Brussels a five-week deadline to agree fresh trade terms or otherwise call for both sides to ‘accept’ no-deal and spend the rest of the year minimising the extent of the disruption from the fallout.
He is expected to say that collapsing the trade talks, should there be no agreement by the October 15 European Council, would still be a ‘good outcome for the UK’, allowing the country to ‘prosper mightily’.
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The pre-briefed words from Johnson arrived as the FT reported that sections of the Internal Market Bill, due to be published on Wednesday, are expected to ‘eliminate’ the legal force of the Withdrawal Agreement in areas including state aid and Northern Ireland customs.
As part of the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the region is expected to continue to follow some EU rules after the transition period ends in 2021 to ensure there is no hard border – a resolution some Brexiteers were angry about when initially revealed.
Approached about the reports, a government spokeswoman said it was working to ‘protect Northern Ireland’s place in our United Kingdom’.
She said: ‘We are working hard to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol through the Joint Committee and will continue to approach these discussions in good faith.
‘As a responsible government, we are considering fall back options in the event this is not achieved to ensure the communities of Northern Ireland are protected.’
But the suggestion that ministers could possibly undermine an international treaty and use Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip has caused uproar among key figures in Ireland and mainland Europe.
Ireland foreign minister Simon Coveney, an influential player in the formation of the Withdrawal Agreement, tweeted: ‘This would be a very unwise way to proceed.’
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said: ‘It beggars belief that the Government is – yet again – playing a dangerous game in Northern Ireland and sacrificing our international standing at the altar of the Prime Minister’s incompetence.’
The suggested move, along with Johnson’s comments about no-deal, is likely to pile the pressure on as negotiators prepare to meet on Tuesday for another round of crunch talks in London.