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Row over Brexit deepens

EU accuses UK of ‘seriously damaging trust’

Michael Gove

Michael Gove: ‘not withdrawing the bill’

The EU has threatened the UK government with legal action if it does not drop a bill to override key parts of the Brexit divorce deal “by the end of the month”.

In a sign of growing anger over Downing Street’s willingness to break international law, the EU issued a statement following emergency talks between the two sides, in which it said the bill “seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK”.

The publication of the Internal Market bill prompted emergency talks between Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and Maros Šefčovič, the European Commission Vice-President as concerns grew over its impact on the Northern Ireland protocol.

Mr Šefčovič said the protocol – which Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government agreed to, and which the UK Houses of Parliament ratified, less than a year ago – is a legal obligation.

The European Union expects the letter and spirit of this Agreement to be fully respected, he said.

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If the Bill were to be adopted, it would constitute an “extremely serious violation of the Withdrawal Agreement and of international law”.

Mr Šefčovič reminded the UK government that the Withdrawal Agreement contains a number of mechanisms and legal remedies to address violations of the legal obligations contained in the text – which the European Union will not be shy in using.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove insisted the UK had made it “perfectly clear” it would not withdraw the bill.

The government is standing by its view that Parliament is sovereign and it can pass laws which breach the UK’s international treaty obligations.

Former Tory leader Lord Howard became the latest senior figure in the party to say the bill would damage the UK’s reputation as a protector of the rule of law.

“How can we reproach Russia or China or Iran when their conduct falls below internationally accepted standards when we are showing such scant regard for our treaty obligations?” he said during a Lords debate.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also threatened legal action, claiming the bill will reduce powers devolved to the Scottish parliament.

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