Irish PM Warns Johnson Over Backsliding From Brexit Divorce Deal
Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister, arrives for the first in-person cabinet meeting since Johnson encouraged people to return to work in London, U.K. (Photographer: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Irish PM Warns Johnson Over Backsliding From Brexit Divorce Deal

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin warned Boris Johnson against tampering with the Brexit divorce agreement he signed last year, saying doing so would torpedo any trade deal between Britain and the European Union.

“The Withdrawal Agreement is an international treaty, and we expect the U.K. government to implement and to adhere to what was agreed,” Martin said in an interview with the Irish Examiner published on Tuesday. “We trust them to do so or they would render the talks process null and void.”

The U.K. is drawing up new legislation that would dilute the effect of the Withdrawal Agreement on subjects ranging from state aid to customs in Northern Ireland -- a decision that risks reopening one of the most controversial disputes in Brexit. Both Ireland and the EU are opposed to any move that could lead to the reintroduction of checks at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. U.K. officials say their aim is to prevent any legal confusion.

The row threatens to overshadow trade talks between U.K. and EU that resume in London on Tuesday. The discussions have been at an impasse for months over two key issues: state aid -- where Britain wants to depart from EU rules to allow it to subsidize particular industries -- and fisheries, where the bloc is seeking unchanged access to British waters after Brexit, something the U.K. is resisting.

The U.K. is due to leave the EU single market and customs union when the Brexit transition agreement expires at the end of December. Without a new trade deal in place, the two sides will face costly new quotas and tariffs on goods trade, and chaotic scenes at the border if customs checks are imposed.

Looming Deadline

David Frost, the U.K.’s chief Brexit negotiator, warned progress must be made this week if an agreement is to be reached in time for the year-end.

“We have now been talking for six months and can no longer afford to go over well-trodden ground,” Frost said in an emailed statement before negotiations with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, in London. “We need to see more realism from the EU about our status as an independent country.”

The two men will meet after Johnson warned he is ready to leave without a trade deal. Doing so “would be a good outcome for the U.K.,” Johnson said in an email to Conservative supporters on Monday. “As a government we’re preparing, at our borders and at our ports, to be ready for it.”

Despite the warnings, Frost said it is still possible for the two sides to reach an accord. Both sides are seeking to secure one before an Oct. 15 meeting of EU leaders.

“There is still time to reach a good agreement, and I look forward to this week’s face-to-face negotiations where I hope progress can be made,” he said.

Martin warned that “any international agreement must be honored,” though the Irish prime minister also said he was reassured by the U.K. issuing a statement that “they would fully implement” the Northern Ireland protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement.

“We are mindful that negotiations are intensifying and stories like this will be part of that negotiation process,” he told the Irish Examiner.

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