Irish Minister Claims Boris Is Making Idle Threats, Really Wants a Deal

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to Downing Street following a cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth office on September 15, 2020. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images

Ireland’s foreign minister has claimed that Boris Johnson is not serious about threats to suspend parts of the Withdrawal Agreement’s Northern Ireland protocol, saying it is part of a hardball negotiating strategy.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson fought off a Tory rebellion, and his Internal Market Bill progressed through the first hurdle in the House of Commons.

The bill seeks to give the government the right to override parts of the EU Withdrawal Agreement, giving the UK unilateral control over issues like customs arrangements between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Boris Johnson’s government said the bill is necessary to preserve the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland if the UK and EU cannot secure a trade deal — with associated customs arrangements — by the end of this year.

The Republic of Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, told Ireland’s Newstalk radio on Monday that because Brussels negotiators were putting pressure on London on the level playing field — forcing the UK to abide by some EU regulations to stop Brexit Britain becoming a competitor to the bloc — the “hawks within No 10” had convinced the prime minister to push the Internal Market Bill, in turn, to put pressure on Brussels.

“I think the British Prime Minister does want a deal, but he has a strange way of going about it,” Mr Coveney said, in comments reported by The Telegraph.

The Irish may have grounds for being suspicious of Johnson’s threats after the prime minister failed to pull out of negotiations when no significant progress had been made in June, as the Johnson administration had indicated according to documents revealed in February.

Former Conservative MP and former Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe hinted her concerns that Boris shifting the goalposts end in yet another Brexit delay. The Brexit veteran told Martin Daubney’s Brexit Unlocked on Monday: “I hope he doesn’t go down the route of yet another extension… It was going to be June. It was going to be July. Now it’s going to by the 15th of October. Anybody really placing bets on that happening?”

Ms Widdecombe also said that the row over the Internal Market Bill allegedly breaking international law was as a result of Boris Johnson and his MPs backing the Withdrawal Agreement in the first place, which could put a border down the Irish Sea and “could eventually threaten the Union”.

“I think we probably wouldn’t have this problem, but for the fact that the Withdrawal Agreement was predicated on the assumption that there would be a deal. Now, we’re moving towards a time where, actually, there may not be any deal at all. So of course, the UK has got to legislate for that, and Boris finds himself in a bind, frankly, of his own making,” the former lawmaker said.

Mr Johnson, however, warned Parliamentarians on Monday that the EU would go to “extreme and unreasonable lengths” if it did not get its own way in negotiations, saying Brussels planned to use elements of the Withdrawal Agreement to “exert leverage” on the UK, including creating a “blockade” of food exports.

“It gets even worse, because under this protocol, that decision would create an instant and automatic prohibition on the transfer of our animal products from ​Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Our interlocutors on the other side are holding out the possibility of blockading food and agricultural transports within our own country,” Mr Johnson said.

“The EU is threatening to carve tariff borders across our own country, to divide our land, to change the basic facts about the economic geography of the United Kingdom and, egregiously, to ride roughshod over its own commitment under article 4 of the protocol, whereby ‘Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom.’

“We cannot have a situation where the boundaries of our country could be dictated by a foreign power or international organisation. No British Prime Minister, no Government, and no Parliament could ever accept such an imposition,” the prime minister asserted.

Last week, Boris Johnson said that if the EU does not soften its hard line by October 15th, the UK will prepare for a clean break.

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