UK Drops Plan to Break Brexit Treaty After Reaching Agreement on Northern Ireland

December 8, 2020 Updated: December 8, 2020

The British government said on Tuesday it will drop its plan to breach the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, after it reached agreement with the European Union about the thorny issue of Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government said in September its Internal Market Bill would override parts of the withdrawal agreement in order to protect free trade between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.

The proposal to breach the withdrawal agreement, an international treaty Johnson’s own government had negotiated and signed, was opposed by all living former UK prime ministers and triggered legal action from the EU.

But following talks between UK Cabinet Minister Michael Gove and European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, co-chairs of the EU–UK Joint Committee, Britain promised on Tuesday to remove the law-breaking clauses from the Internal Market Bill.

“Following intensive and constructive work over the past weeks by the EU and the UK, the two co-chairs can now announce their agreement in principle on all issues, in particular with regard to the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland,” Gove and Šefčovič said in a joint statement.

“In view of these mutually agreed solutions, the UK will withdraw clauses 44, 45, and 47 of the UK Internal Market Bill, and not introduce any similar provisions in the Taxation Bill,” said the statement.

Gove said on Twitter that he was “delighted” to announce the agreement and thanked Šefčovič and his team for their “constructive and pragmatic approach.”

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney welcomed the “positive news” and said he hoped “this may also provide some of the positive momentum necessary to instil confidence and trust and allow progress in the wider context of the future relationship negotiations.”

The withdrawal agreement, which was signed into law in January, sets out the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU, and is separate from the ongoing negotiations about arrangements of post-Brexit trade relations.

The UK officially left the EU in January but entered a transition period in which trading arrangements—such as tariffs and quotas—remain unaltered. That period ends at midnight on Dec. 31.

If no trade deal with the EU is reached by then, Britain will default to trading with the 27 EU countries under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen talked on the phone twice in the past three days, but have so far failed to break the deadlock.

Johnson will travel to Brussels “in the coming days” to hold face-to-face talks with EU leaders, the two sides said in a joint statement on Monday.