TRADE talks with Brussels are hanging by a thread after the EU erupted over bombshell claims Britain was backsliding on previous promises over Northern Ireland.
Boris Johnson has set a mid-October deadline to get a new deal inked to avoid tariffs on cross border trade after Brexit, but a furious row broke out today putting that in doubt.
Brussels have threatened to pull stumps on the talks over allegations Britain was trying to water down agreements over the Northern Irish border signed by Mr Johnson last year.
EU diplomats were left stunned after the FT claimed the Prime Minister wants to overwrite parts of last year's Withdrawal Agreement to water down checks on goods flowing between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.
One said such a move would ruin Britain's reputation on the world stage, adding: "It would be a desperate and ultimately self-defeating strategy."
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said full implementation of the border agreement is a "prerequisite for any future partnership" with the EU.
And Michel Barnier said talks would end if the Withdrawal Agreement and its crucial Northern Ireland Protocol that avoids a hard border were not honoured.
His spokesman suggested the Frenchman will walk away from the talks if the UK doesn't live up to its commitments.
But London insisted they were merely seeing off backdoor control from Brussels if no deal is done with legal "tidying up loose ends".
Today No10 moved to scotch the row, insisting they are just trying to avoid legal chaos in a No Deal scenario rather than backslide on previous promises.
An angry official hit back: “The government is completely committed, as it always has been, to implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol in good faith.”
The row is centred on claims Britain was attempting to change the agreement over what goods will be liable for checks when travelling into Northern Ireland.
An official list is being drawn up by a Joint Committee of what goods might end up in the EU by moving through the province and via the Irish republic land border.
The UK/EU group have been meeting regularly all year to hammer out the list, but the UK fears the list will not be ready by the end of the year.
If talks collapse Britain wants to be able to decide what goods are exempt from cross-border tariffs that would go up in a No Deal scenario.
But Brussels will argue they want a level of control to decide if their import taxes apply too.
A new law will be published this week that sets out Britain’s position – with No10 arguing it had to come this week in order to get through Parliament by December. They denied this move was actually to pressure Brussels into doing a trade deal.
The official said: “If we don't take these steps we face the prospect of legal confusion at the end of the year and potentially extremely damaging defaults, including tariffs on goods moving from GB to Northern Ireland.
“We are making minor clarifications in extremely specific areas to ensure that, as we implement the protocol, we are doing so in a way that allows ministers to always uphold and protect the Good Friday peace agreement.”
And Boris Johnson’s official spokesman added: “We will continue to work with the EU in the Joint Committee to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“However, as a responsible Government, we cannot allow the peace process or the UK’s internal market to inadvertently be compromised by unintended consequences of the protocol.
He added: “ So we are taking limited and reasonable steps to clarify specific elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol in domestic law to remove any ambiguity and to ensure the government is always able to deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.
“These limited clarifications deliver on the commitments the Government made in the General Election manifesto, which said “We will ensure that Northern Ireland’s businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of the UK and that in the implementation of our Brexit deal, we maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market.”
Michael Gove will address Parliament this afternoon over the row.
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