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Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversial Brexit bill, which cleared its final Commons hurdle this week, has sparked fury in Brussels. The Internal Market Bill, which passed its third reading by 340 votes to 256, gives the Government the power to override provisions in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – the “divorce” settlement with Brussels signed by Mr Johnson – relating to Northern Ireland.
But speaking about the bill, which threatens to tear up a previous agreement on Northern Irish custom, a senior UK official warned the Union they “can’t do anything in Northern Ireland” without the say-so of Britain.
They said: “The EU has forgotten that Northern Ireland is a part of the UK.
“They are a bit imperialistic, but they can’t do anything in Northern Ireland without the collaboration of the UK.”
Within the withdrawal agreement, Northern Ireland is included in the EU’s state aid structure.
Due to this, Brussels has declared the new legislation violates an international agreement which was signed off by Mr Johnson in October.
Wednesday, meanwhile, is the deadline set by the EU for the UK to withdraw the Northern Ireland provisions from the legislation.
At talks in Brussels on Monday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove made clear the Government was not prepared to back down despite a renewed threat by the EU of legal action.
Despite their differences, the two sides are continuing their negotiations on a free trade deal in talks in the Belgian capital headed by Michel Barnier for the EU and Britain’s David Frost.
Both sides have acknowledged that time is running out, and that agreement needs to be in place by mid-October.
Mr Johnson has said that he is prepared to walk away from the negotiating table if it cannot be settled by the EU summit on October 15 as it will be too late to implement before the end of the current Brexit transition period at the end of the year.
The Bill will now go to the House of Lords.
Ministers argue the measures are necessary to provide a “legal safety net” to protect the Northern Ireland peace process if Britain fails to get an agreement on a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU.
However, the Government has faced fierce criticism from across the political spectrum for going back on commitments made in an international treaty.
Ministers were able to defuse a wider Tory rebellion after they agreed to amend the legislation to require a Commons vote before the provisions relating to Northern Ireland could be activated.
However, there may be further attempts to amend the legislation in the
Lords where a number of senior Tories – including former party leader Lord Howard of Lympne – have spoken out against it.
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