Boris Johnson has told MEPs that he believes the EU may not negotiate with Britain in good faith.
The Prime Minister explained why he wants to overwrite parts of the Brexit agreement he signed with the EU in January.
He said it was to prevent the EU from behaving in an “unreasonable”
Under pressure from Labor’s Hilary Benn over whether he believed the EU was negotiating in good faith, he said: “I do not think they are.”
This went against Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who had previously told MEPs he believed the EU was acting in good faith.
When it was sent to him, Mr Johnson said that “it was always possible that I was wrong and maybe they would prove that my suspicion is wrong”.
Both sides have a duty to act in good faith under Article 5 of the withdrawal agreement – but it is difficult to demonstrate a lack of “good faith” or “best efforts” – another sentence enshrined in the Treaty.
The legal definition of “good faith” is stronger than the generally accepted meaning of the words.
Sir. Johnson told the Liaison Committee, a panel of senior MPs in the backbench, that a no-deal scenario was “not what this country wants” and “it is not what our EU friends and partners want from us”.
“Therefore, I have all the hope and expectation that it will not be the result.”
It comes as the prime minister tries to ward off a potential uprising from Tory MPs over his plan to rewrite parts of the withdrawal agreement.
More than 30 Tory MPs were expected to vote in favor of amending the single market bill next week.
If adopted, Sir Bob Neill’s amendment would have given MEPs the final say on amendments to the withdrawal agreement proposed in the Internal Market Act.
The Prime Minister has now promised to give MPs “an extra layer of parliamentary oversight”, the BBC understands.
‘Belt and braces’
The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said ministers’ hope was that this would “prevent riots next week”.
Sir. Johnson says the Single Market Act is necessary to protect the UK’s “territorial integrity” if trade negotiations with the EU fail.
He described it to MPs as a “belt and harness” measure in case of “extreme” interpretations of the EU withdrawal agreement.
The bill was about making sure friends and partners do nothing unreasonable, he added.
But it has provoked a setback from the EU, which has threatened legal action – and the possible suspension of trade negotiations – if it is not withdrawn.
Brandon Lewis admitted last week – in response to a Commons question from Tory MP Sir Bob Neill – that the bill would violate international law in a “specific and limited” way.
His words led to the resignation of a senior government official, condemning all five living former prime ministers who have warned that it threatens Britain’s reputation for upholding treaties and international law.
A number of Tory MPs abstained or voted against the bill on Monday – and many of them were expected to support Sir Bob Neill’s amendment next week.
‘Legal safety net’
He wrote in the I-paper, saying that his amendment “seeks to put a parliamentary lock on the powers that the government seeks to give itself”.
He added: “Taking a slag hammer for the whole bill would be the wrong approach.
“It’s very good at it, with 51 of the 54 clauses being pretty harmless to the vast majority.
“The seriousness of the three remaining clauses requires at least further control and balance.
“My amendment will ensure that further parliamentary approval is secured before the government can release them.”
Speaking earlier, Johnson’s official spokesman said the prime minister and his team “are in talks with lawmakers about the bill and the importance of creating the legal safety net”.
He confirmed that the Prime Minister had spoken to Sir Bob and said “talks with MEPs will continue”.
What is the Internal Market Bill?
The bill sets out rules for the operation of the UK single market – trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – following the end of the Brexit transition period in January.
It is suggested:
- No new controls on goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK
- To give British ministers the power to amend or “reject” rules on the movement of goods, which will enter into force on 1 January, if the United Kingdom and the EU are unable to reach an alternative agreement through a trade agreement
- Powers to override previously agreed State aid obligations – State aid to undertakings.
The bill explicitly states that these powers must apply even if they are incompatible with international law.
Ministers say legislation is needed to prevent “damage” to tariffs on goods traveling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland if negotiations with the EU on a free trade agreement fail.
But some senior Conservatives – including former Prime Minister John Major – have warned that it risks undermining the UK’s reputation as a maintainer of international law.
Legislation has also proved controversial with decentralized administrations, which are concerned about how Britain’s ‘single market’ will function after Brexit and who will set the rules and standards.