Boris Johnson is reportedly planning new legislation that would override key parts of last year’s EU withdrawal agreement.
In the face of mounting criticism from senior political figures, the government’s actions have been defended by Environment Secretary George Eustice, who told Sky News: “We’re not moving the goalposts.”
With the prime minister expected to downplay the potential risks of a no-deal Brexit, Sky News experts provide their analysis on the new plans.
Dynamite move makes no deal look increasingly possible
By Joe Pike, political correspondent
However keen the government is to downplay this legislation, denying it is shifting the goalposts, this move is dynamite.
Unexpected, bold and potentially game-changing, it suggests Boris Johnson is trying to achieve two things.
Firstly, as a no-deal exit looks increasingly possible, the UK may be preparing to keep maximum control over areas like state aid and customs, so it can safeguard the country’s interests in such a scenario.
Secondly, it is a threat: with talks between David Frost and Michel Barnier stalling, it makes it abundantly clear without a deal the UK will walk away and rip up much of the withdrawal agreement to boot.
Downing Street argues this is just a “fall back” option, but the stunned reaction from diplomats and opposition politicians suggests it is something far more aggressive.
Irish government still believes Withdrawal Agreement is a done deal
By Stephen Murphy, Ireland correspondent
The ripping up of a legal agreement less than a year old, or a familiar case of political brinkmanship?
That’s the question today in Dublin and Belfast, as political leaders grasp the reports that Boris Johnson could be about to ditch the Northern Ireland protocol.
“It came out of the blue”, said one Dublin government source. There is now real concern in the Irish government that new UK legislation will override core principles of the Withdrawal Agreement, and will raise the spectre of a hard border on the island of Ireland once more.
That course of action would be “unwise” according to the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, in a blunt tweet. Others feel that “unwise” is a massive understatement.
“How could any country come to an agreement with Britain if they’re prepared to rip up an international treaty?” asked the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, echoing the thoughts of many in Ireland.
Could Britain really be prepared to sacrifice its credibility on the international negotiating stage in exchange for a more politically acceptable outcome to NI-GB trade?
That’s how Dublin will will weigh up the likelihood of these reports coming to fruition. But there is also a prevailing attitude of “let’s wait and see”.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin and his team will want to see what exactly is contained in the bill later this week before responding, and even then will await clarification sought by Michel Barnier and his negotiators.
One thing is sure: in the eyes of the Irish government, the Withdrawal Agreement is closed – a done deal.
Incendiary move could unite EU nations rather than divide them
By Adam Parsons, Europe correspondent
In Brussels, the Withdrawal Agreement is seen as a fundamental building block of Brexit. The idea of rewriting it, at this stage, is a non-starter for the European Union.
For one thing, it took a lot of political effort to get it agreed in the first place. There is zero appetite for going back to basics at this point.
But for another – and this is more important – there is a genuine sense of shock and anger among EU diplomats that the British government could contemplate this.
One told me that he was “bemused” that Britain could push so hard to preserve the “primacy of British law” and then threaten to tear up the rule book.
Another diplomat described the idea as a “desperate and ultimately self-defeating strategy” that would “undermine” the UK’s international standing.
Brexit negotiations have certainly stagnated recently. That may well be because many across Europe have underestimated the UK Government’s willingness to accept leaving without a deal.
Something was needed to inject energy. But, in Brussels, the prospect of Britain ignoring the Withdrawal Agreement will be incendiary. It may yet unite EU nations, rather than divide them.