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EU threatens to ban UK food exports if no trade deal agreed

The European Parliament will block any trade deal with the UK if Boris Johnson breaches his Brexit deal, MEPs said today.

Leaders in Brussels said the Prime Minister’s UK Internal Market Bill is a ‘serious and unacceptable breach of international law’ which puts at risk the trade negotiations.

A statement added: ‘Should the UK authorities breach – or threaten to breach – the Withdrawal Agreement, through the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill in its current form or in any other way, the European Parliament will under no circumstances ratify any agreement between the EU and the UK.’  

It comes after the European Union today hinted it could ban UK food exports to the bloc if the two sides fail to agree a trade deal by the end of the year. 

Michel Barnier said there were still ‘many uncertainties’ on the UK’s post-Brexit standards regime and that ‘more clarity is needed’ in order for Brussels to agree to allow British exports of food and livestock to continue.

The EU negotiator’s comments have been widely viewed in Westminster as a veiled threat as relations between the two sides continue to deteriorate.    

Trade talks remain ongoing between Britain and Brussels ahead of the end of the transition period in December. 

But tensions have grown in recent days after Boris Johnson unveiled plans to tear up parts of the original Brexit divorce deal. 

The EU has given Mr Johnson until the end of the month to withdraw his proposals to override elements of the Withdrawal Agreement, with the bloc threatening legal action if he does not comply. 

Brussels has also made clear that the future of trade talks are at risk of collapse if Mr Johnson does not perform a U-turn – but Michael Gove has vowed the Government will not be changing course.

Michel Barnier, pictured in London yesterday, has hinted the EU could ban UK food exports into the bloc if the two sides fail to strike a trade deal

Tensions between the UK and the EU have increased in recent days after Boris Johnson said he intends to override parts of the Brexit divorce deal

Tensions between the UK and the EU have increased in recent days after Boris Johnson said he intends to override parts of the Brexit divorce deal

Mr Johnson is now facing a rebellion of up to 30 Tory MPs who want to give Parliament the ability to veto any attempt by the premier to depart from the divorce accord.

The scale of the Tory backlash to his plans has prompted the PM to invite every Conservative MP to a mass private Zoom call this evening when he will answer questions in a bid to assuage rising levels of anger. 

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown today said Mr Johnson’s plans represented a ‘huge act of self harm’.

The former prime minister argued the Government’s strategy appears to be based on a belief that a ‘desperate’ EU will eventually back down but he said such a belief is ‘wrong’ and that the bloc is actually more likely to dig in. 

The row over the PM’s Brexit plans came as International Trade Secretary Liz Truss announced a free trade agreement between the UK and Japan has been secured in principle.   

Ms Truss said it is Britain’s first major deal as an independent trading nation and it will increase commerce with Japan by an estimated £15.2 billion.   

UK strikes first post-Brexit trade deal with Japan

Ministers have been urged to ‘redouble’ their efforts to secure a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU after the Government announced it had secured an agreement with Japan.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said it was a ‘historic moment’ for the two countries which will bring ‘new wins’ for British businesses.

But Labour said it was important to put the deal in ‘perspective’, stressing that even though the agreement was ‘welcome’, the net benefit would amount to just 0.07 per cent of UK GDP.

The agreement comes as hopes of a trade deal between the UK and EU hang in the balance after Brussels demanded the UK abandons plans to override key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry said: ‘Trade with Japan represented 2.21 per cent of our global total last year, and under the best case scenario put forward by the Government, today’s agreement will see that total increase by just 0.07 percentage points each year, simply maintaining the levels of growth seen since 2015, and preserving the forecast benefits of the current EU-Japan agreement.

‘That all compares to the 47 per cent of our global trade that we currently have with the EU.

‘So, necessary as this agreement is, the Government’s overriding priority has to be securing the oven-ready deal that they promised us with Europe, which Japanese companies like Nissan have told us is crucial to the future of the investment and jobs they bring to Britain.’

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said the deal was ‘undoubtedly a cause for celebration’ but that securing a free trade agreement with the EU ‘remains critical to the future of businesses in the UK’.

In a statement issued by Mr Barnier following the conclusion of the latest round of Brexit talks yesterday, he said: ‘There are also many uncertainties about Great Britain’s sanitary and phyto-sanitary regime as from 1 January 2021. 

‘More clarity is needed for the EU to do the assessment for the third-country listing of the UK.’ 

The so-called ‘third-country listing’ of the UK by the EU is necessary to allow the continued export of agricultural goods.

It had been viewed as a formality that the UK would be given the listing even if no trade deal is agreed because the two sides currently have matching food standards regimes. 

Mr Barnier’s suggestion that the listing could be withheld is seen by some in Whitehall as a move by the EU to put pressure on Mr Johnson to drop his plans to move away from parts of the Withdrawal Agreement. 

A Government spokesman said: ‘The right to export is the absolute basis for a relationship between two countries that trade agricultural goods. 

‘It is a license to export and entirely separate from the issue of food standards. It would be very unusual for the EU to go down this route and deny the UK listing.’ 

It came as Mr Brown today became the third former prime minister to criticise Mr Johnson’s Brexit plans after Sir John Major and Theresa May also hit out at the current occupant of Number 10. 

The former Labour leader told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: ‘This is a huge act of self harm. We knew there was a debate over fishing and over state aid but then to explode the argument into breaking an international treaty has been condemned by so many people.

‘If I had done that when I was prime minister the Conservatives would have accused me of breaching the rule of law, they would have thrown everything at us and said ‘you cannot ignore an international treaty that you signed only a few weeks ago and you negotiated’.

‘But I think this is part of a strategy that I think is going wrong on the part of the Government.

‘They think they will have a European Council on October 16 and that they can persuade Angela Merkel to step in instead of Barnier, they think they can tie up a deal because people will be desperate.

‘I don’t think it is going to work that way because I think myself that Angela Merkel will probably be even more adamant to stick to the rule of law.’ 

Mr Brown said he feared the UK will end up with a ‘minimalist’ trade deal by the end of the transition period in December which the EU will axe if Britain fails to live up to its commitments. 

‘What I fear is actually we are going to get some sort of deal but it is a minimalist deal that will be no tariffs now but if you break the level playing field… then we will intervene as a European Union,’ he said. 

The latest row with the EU was sparked by the publication of the Government’s UK Internal Market Bill. 

The legislation, which the Government is hoping to crash through the House of Commons in the next two weeks, will enable the UK to unilaterally make decisions about key issues, like customs arrangements between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, contained within the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Brussels is adamant that the decisions must be made by a joint committee made up of people from both sides. 

The Government has admitted its proposals will break international law, prompting fury from Mr Johnson’s political opponents but also from Tory backbenchers.

Conservative MPs are now planning to try to amend the legislation in order to give Parliament a veto on any attempt by the PM to override the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Sir Bob Neill, the Tory chairman of the Justice Select Committee, is tabling the amendment and reports suggest he may have the backing of up to 30 of his Conservative colleagues.  

Sir Bob told Times Radio: ‘We are not natural rebels. We’ve all served as ministers, we know that this is a serious job, and we do our best to take the job seriously. So we don’t do anything like this lightly.

‘So I hope it’s at least an indication as a Government that really, you need to think very hard and carefully about going down this route. For heaven’s sake, try and find some other way.’ 

Rebelling against Mr Johnson’s Government on Brexit has previously resulted in Tory MPs being stripped of the party whip. 

But a Government source told The Times that would not be the case if there is a rebellion on the UK Internal Market Bill. The source said ‘we’re not in the same place’ as previously on Brexit matters.  

Even if the Bill makes it through the Commons there are major question marks over whether it will survive the House of Lords where peers are furious at the plans to knowingly break international law. 

Lord Lamont of Lerwick, a former Tory chancellor and a Brexiteer, said there was ‘no way’ peers will agree to the legislation.  


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