Boris Johnson’s Brexit proposals have “damaged trust” and set back talks on a trade deal with the EU, an Irish minister has told Sky News.
The backlash to the prime minister’s Internal Market Bill is continuing, with former prime ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair joining the chorus of criticism.
The government has admitted the Brexit bill, which will be debated by MPs this coming week amid a possible Tory rebellion, breaks international law.
It overrides parts of the EU divorce deal and has sparked fury in Brussels, which has threatened legal action over what it considers a violation of an international treaty.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, has said the Northern Ireland protocol element of the withdrawal agreement “is not a threat to the integrity of the UK”.
“We agreed this delicate compromise with Boris Johnson and his government in order to protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland.
“We could not have been clearer about the consequences of Brexit.”
Ireland’s justice secretary Helen McEntee told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that events this week have “certainly set us back”.
She said the push from Mr Johnson to override parts of the Brexit deal he negotiated with Brussels last year has “damaged trust”.
Controversial Brexit legislation explained
“It’s caused a lot of confusion. I think it has, in some way, damaged trust between both sides,” Ms McEntee told Sky News.
“It’s very difficult to see how you can negotiate a free trade agreement when what has already been agreed is being proposed to be breached less than nine months later.”
Irish prime minister Micheal Martin said the EU was “united in calling for full implementation of the withdrawal agreement/protocol”, adding: “International law and agreements must be honoured.”
But justice secretary Robert Buckland defended the prime minister’s strategy, saying: “This isn’t something we do lightly, this isn’t something that we actually want to use, this is something that a responsible government does in order to prepare for the worst.
“But can I reiterate our steely determination to get a deal.”
Mr Buckland twice avoided the question when asked if he would resign if the government does not abide by the rule of law.
He also claimed that what the PM was proposing was in accordance with “the most honourable traditions of the British state” which he said was to “alert everyone to a possibility of a problem, to actually legislate to prepare ourselves domestically for that”.
Mr Buckland rejected comparisons between the government’s plans and breaking criminal law, describing them as “wholly misplaced”.
“What we’re talking about here is intricate international law arrangements,” he said.
“I can reassure the Irish government I can reassure all friends in Europe that all we’re seeking to do is prepare the ground domestically if things are not resolved.”
Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh said the legislation was “seriously undermining and jeopardising” the chances of a trade deal with the EU.
She told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “This is the last thing the country needs right now.
“As we’re attempting to respond to COVID and cope with economic recovery, what we need is a deal with the European Union that protects our trading relationship, protects businesses, protects jobs and protects jobs in Northern Ireland.
“What Boris Johnson is doing is risking all of that and as I say, it is the very last thing the country needs at this critical moment.”