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JASON GOVES analyses the state of the EU talks as UK teeters on brink of a no-deal Brexit 

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It was an admission that stunned MPs, enraged Brussels and left Boris Johnson facing the biggest Tory rebellion since the election.

Brandon Lewis was making a workmanlike defence of the new Internal Market Bill following reports that it would clash with obligations made by the Prime Minister in last year’s Brexit deal.

But, asked whether the legislation would break the law, he did not obfuscate, stating simply: ‘Yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way.’

Cue pandemonium, with the EU threatening legal action against the UK and Mr Johnson facing criticism from all five living former prime ministers.

It was an admission that stunned MPs, enraged Brussels and left Boris Johnson (pictured) facing the biggest Tory rebellion since the election

It was an admission that stunned MPs, enraged Brussels and left Boris Johnson (pictured) facing the biggest Tory rebellion since the election

The admission was not a gaffe. The Northern Ireland Secretary read his answer off a script which had been cleared by No 10.

So what was the Government playing at?

The genesis of the controversial measures came in July, when the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier leaned across the table and casually suggested to his British counterpart David Frost that British food exports to the EU could be blocked in the event of No Deal.

According to British negotiators that was the moment they realised that the EU was threatening to take a ‘maximalist position’ towards the interpretation of the Brexit deal.

The British side was already worried that ‘ambiguous’ sections of the deal could allow the EU to drive a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

If he was willing to contemplate UK food exports to the EU, potentially preventing British food being sent to Northern Ireland, what else might he be willing to do?

The genesis of the controversial measures came in July, when the EU¿s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (pictured) leaned across the table and casually suggested to his British counterpart David Frost that British food exports to the EU could be blocked in the event of No Deal

The genesis of the controversial measures came in July, when the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (pictured) leaned across the table and casually suggested to his British counterpart David Frost that British food exports to the EU could be blocked in the event of No Deal

Mr Barnier’s threat has apparently been repeated several times in the intervening weeks and was finally made public at the end of last week.

In the meantime, officials led by Lord Frost and Dominic Cummings secretly drafted a string of measures designed to limit EU interference in the UK.

Everyone involved knew the measures would break the Brexit treaty signed by the PM last year, but felt it was justified because of the EU’s ‘absurd’ negotiating position.

Ministers finally signed off the measures last Thursday.

But before they could lay the groundwork for the extraordinary changes they were leaked by officials to an anti-Brexit newspaper.

The following day, the Government’s top lawyer resigned in protest and No 10 was on the back foot. Many Tory MPs believe the move was a negotiating tactic designed to provoke a crisis in negotiations that were going nowhere.

Everyone involved knew the measures would break the Brexit treaty signed by the PM last year, but felt it was justified because of the EU¿s ¿absurd¿ negotiating position

Everyone involved knew the measures would break the Brexit treaty signed by the PM last year, but felt it was justified because of the EU’s ‘absurd’ negotiating position

Tobias Ellwood, Tory chairman of the Commons defence committee, suggested the Government’s move was driven by ‘Nixonian madman theory’ – convince the other side that you are mad enough to do anything and they will back off.

Ministers flatly deny that the incendiary move was designed to increase pressure on the EU to cut a deal.

Sources insist that the provisions are needed to provide a ‘safety net’ to protect the integrity of the UK should talks on a deal fail.

But it is hard to escape the conclusion that the timing of the move was designed to influence the moribund negotiations.

The PM has set a deadline of mid-October for clinching a deal. If ministers had wanted to they could easily have pushed through the legislation after that rather than detonating a row at a critical stage.

Tobias Ellwood, Tory chairman of the Commons defence committee, (pictured) suggested the Government¿s move was driven by ¿Nixonian madman theory¿ ¿ convince the other side that you are mad enough to do anything and they will back off

Tobias Ellwood, Tory chairman of the Commons defence committee, (pictured) suggested the Government’s move was driven by ‘Nixonian madman theory’ – convince the other side that you are mad enough to do anything and they will back off

Mr Johnson even admitted last night that the Bill does not actually tackle the threat of a food ‘blockade’ of Northern Ireland.

But, whether by accident or design, there are tentative signs that the row might just have jolted the negotiations into life.

For all the sound and fury, Brussels has not walked away from the negotiations. In fact, additional informal talks are taking place this week. Lord Frost has been complaining for weeks about the EU’s refusal to move on from the vexed issues of fishing and state aid.

UK sources say that, despite the row, last week’s negotiations were ‘the best for months’, with Mr Barnier finally relenting and allowing discussion of some of the easier-to-solve issues.

In the eyes of many, the threat to break the law is a step too far. But there is just a chance that it might pay off and deliver a deal that could resolve the Northern Ireland issue once and for all.

DailyMail Online


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