Michael Gove will hold crisis talks with the EU today with trade talks on the verge of collapse after UK threats to tear up the Brexit divorce terms.
The Cabinet minister will meet commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in London amid warnings from Brussels that it could try to impose massive fines.
The showdown comes after the government published legislation that would effectively override the Withdrawal Agreement and potentially break international law, insisting it is necessary to protect the Northern Ireland peace process.
The high stakes in the row were underlined overnight when US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, warned there will be no Transatlantic trade deal if the agreement is not honoured.
Meanwhile, Michel Barnier and Lord Frost are wrapping up the latest round of trade negotiations this afternoon, with gloom growing about the prospects of a breakthrough on the key issues of fishing rights and obeying EU rules.
Officials from the bloc have been briefing that they believe the UK is deliberately trying to blow up the process, and has already decided there will not be a deal.
The European commission’s Marco Sefcovic (pictured in Brussels yesterday) demanded the ‘extraordinary meeting’ of the Joint Committee between the UK and EU, which is being held in London around midday
Michael Gove (left yesterday) will meet commission vice-president Mr Sefcovic in London amid warnings from Brussels that it could try to impose massive fines. Mr Johnson (pictured in Downing Street yesterday) has said his first responsibility is to protect the Peace Process
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was ‘very concerned’ following the tabling in Parliament of the UK Internal Market Bill
Mr Sefcovic has demanded the ‘extraordinary meeting’ of the Joint Committee between the UK and EU, which is being held in London around midday.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was ‘very concerned’ following the tabling in Parliament of the UK Internal Market Bill, which ministers have admitted will breach international law.
She said such actions would ‘undermine trust’ and called on the Prime Minister to honour his past commitments.
The European Commission’s chief spokesperson Eric Mamer tweeted last night to confirm the meeting, saying: ‘The EU seeks clarifications from the UK on the full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.’
The Internal Market Bill, published yesterday, would unilaterally decide details that Brussels insists must be settled by the joint committee, including customs arrangements between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis sparked outrage earlier this week by bluntly admitting that the measures will breach international law.
And Downing Street claimed yesterday that the Withdrawal Agreement was ‘not like any other treaty’ because it was sealed ‘at pace in the most challenging possible political circumstances’.
Mr Johnson said at PMQs that his first responsibility was to protect the Peace Process.
‘My job is to uphold the integrity of the UK but also to protect the Northern Irish peace process and the Good Friday Agreement,’ the PM said.
‘To do that we need a legal safety net to protect our country against extreme or irrational interpretations of the protocol, which could lead to a border down the Irish Sea in a way that I believe – and I think members around the House believe – would be prejudicial to the interests of the Good Friday Agreement and prejudicial to the interests of peace in our country. That has to be our priority.’
However, Ms Pelosi insisted there was ‘absolutely no chance’ of Congress passing an American trade deal with the UK if the Northern Ireland peace process was ‘imperilled’.
In a statement on Wednesday, Ms Pelosi said: ‘The Good Friday Agreement is the bedrock of peace in Northern Ireland and an inspiration for the whole world.
‘Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday Agreement, including the stability brought by the invisible and frictionless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.
US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (pictured in Washington this week), warned there will be no Transatlantic trade deal if the NI agreement is not honoured
The Internal Market Bill, published yesterday, would unilaterally decide details that Brussels insists must be settled by the joint committee, including customs arrangements between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland
‘The UK must respect the Northern Ireland Protocol as signed with the EU to ensure the free flow of goods across the border.
‘If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.
‘The Good Friday Agreement is treasured by the American people and will be proudly defended in the United States Congress.’
Tory former prime minister Sir John Major reacted angrily to Mr Johnson’s stance on international law.
‘For generations, Britain’s word – solemnly given – has been accepted by friend and foe. Our signature on any treaty or agreement has been sacrosanct,’ he said.
‘Over the last century, as our military strength has dwindled, our word has retained its power. If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer insisted Mr Johnson needed to secure a deal with the EU.
He said: ‘If you fail to get a deal, Prime Minister, you own that failure.’