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European diplomats and officials are drawing up a list of potential sanctions to slap on the country unless the House of Commons blocks the Internal Market Bill. With trade talks on the brink of collapse, British officials are confident they can win round Michel Barnier for their plans to create a “safety net” for a no deal Brexit. Lord Frost made clear to his EU counterpart the Government is fully committed to the Northern Ireland protocol it agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement with the bloc.
Whitehall sources insisted the publication of the Internal Market Bill was “absolutely not a negotiation ploy” to strong-arm concessions out of the Brussels negotiator.
“We are setting out provisions for ensuring that we can always take steps to maintain peace in Northern Ireland, this is separate to the negotiations,” one official close to the talks said.
Under the plan, ministers will have the power to overrule the EU’s customs and subsidies rules applied to Northern Ireland and any European Court of Justice rulings applied in the province.
But European sources said the bloc is now considering slapping sanctions on Britain unless MPs vote down the legislation.
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An EU diplomat told Express.co.uk: “It’s certainly not cricket. In four years of negotiations this is the absolute lowest point. They could have at least tried to fudge it.
“Capitals will now study the law. Should it be found to contravene the Withdrawal Agreement and remain intact after parliamentary scrutiny the appropriate procedures in the divorce deal will apply.
“The chances of a successful outcome in the trade negotiations are now small.”
A senior diplomat involved in the Brexit talks described the Bill as a “full-frontal assault on the Protocol and its obligations.”
They added: “No effort was made to obscure the UK Government’s ability to deviate from the arrangements in the Ireland Protocol.”
The divorce treaty allows for both sides to take legal action, and potentially impose fines, against the other if the terms of the deal are broken.
Mr Barnier has been instructed by European capitals to continue negotiating despite the grievances with London.
The bloc wants to ensure the blame is levelled on Mr Johnson if the trade talks eventually collapse without an agreement.
An EU official said: “Talks will continue albeit in a tense atmosphere.
“It won’t be the EU walking away from the table, rest assured. Barnier will showcase himself as the one who wants a deal, which puts the UK in the position of those responsible for the mess.”
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Another official said that giving up on the negotiations on the future relationship between the bloc and Britain “would only play into the UK game”.
This comes despite a host of dismayed European capitals urging a tough line against Britain.
France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune said: “Compliance with the Withdrawal Agreement is not negotiable.
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“Commitments have been made, they must be implemented. Among friends and allies, we must keep our word and respect the law. The European Union is committed to it, we expect it from the United Kingdom.”
Irish prime minister Micheal Martin said: “Any negotiation process can only proceed on the basis of trust. When one party to a negotiation decides that they can change what’s already agreed and incorporated into law, it really undermines trust.
“This is a critical time in the Brexit process and the stakes are very high.”
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