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Taoiseach: UK ‘trust has been eroded’

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has spoken with Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the British government publishing intended legislation which will violate key parts of the withdrawal agreement signed by Britain and the EU last year.

The legislation, the UK Internal Market Bill, gives British ministers the power to decide unilaterally how parts of the Northern Ireland protocol in the withdrawal agreement should be implemented and disapplies parts of the treaty.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin expressed the Irish Government’s position in a “forthright” telephone call with the British prime minister on Wednesday night.

Mr Martin expressed his deep concerns to Mr Johnson about the effect of raising new uncertainty about Border issues in relation to Northern Ireland.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the Taoiseach said trust has been eroded and will impact further negotiations.

“The stakes are higher now because of the British action. The publication of the bill signals an attempt by the UK government to essentially break its commitment entered into an international agreement and that is very serious,” he said.

“I think the European Union leadership will be very concerned in how negotiations go from here.”

Mr Martin said he pointed out to Johnson very strongly it was ” dragging Northern Ireland” back into the argument and that the Prime Minister understands his concerns.

“Trust has been eroded but he made it clear to me that the UK was fully committed to meeting the obligations of protecting the single market and fluidity of trade north and south. The legislation runs counter to that.”

The Prime Minister defended his decision to introduce a Bill that would break international law, telling MPs it is necessary to protect Britain against “extreme or irrational interpretations” of the Northern Ireland protocol while saying the bill was designed to protect peace in Northern Ireland.

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Mr Martin also said the clauses of the legislation essentially gives them “a chance to nullify the protocol” and that they can do “what they want when they want to”.

He also said he is not optimistic of a deal.

The European Commission’s chief spokesperson Eric Mamer Tweeted late yesterday: “Following today’s announcement by the UK, Maros Sefcovic will travel to London tomorrow to meet Michael Gove for an extraordinary meeting of the Joint Committee.

“The EU seeks clarifications from the UK on the full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.”

Brexit talks will take place today with a meeting of the Joint Committee between the UK and EU being held in London.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove will meet senior EU official Maros Sefcovic to discuss the situation, as talks between the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost and his Brussels counterpart Michel Barnier continue.

The announcement has been condemned all around the world. Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major warned the consequences could be dire for the UK: “For generations, Britain’s word – solemnly given – has been accepted by friend and foe . . . If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained.”

Theresa May also expressed concern.

The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Declan Morgan, told the BBC that the British government’s actions made him “gravely uncomfortable” and that the bill “enables others to take the view that they can choose which laws apply to them.”

In America, House speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress. The Good Friday Agreement is treasured by the American people and will be proudly defended in the United States Congress.”

EU President Dr von der Leyen responded by reminding Britain of the concept of “pacta sunt servanda”, or “agreements must be kept”, a founding principle of international relations and law.

EU and UK negotiators have just weeks to agree a complex further deal to govern their future relationship, covering everything from fishing rights to trade in goods and services.

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