European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier says he will seek clarification this week about a report that Britain might be planning to renege on its Brexit commitments
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator said Monday that he will seek clarification from London about a report that Britain might be planning to renege on commitments it has made during negotiations on its departure from the bloc, as concern mounts that trust between the sides is evaporating.
The Financial Times newspaper reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is planning domestic legislation that would water down commitments to maintaining an open border between the U.K. territory of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland that it has already signed up to.
The border guarantee was a key part of the legally binding divorce agreement sealed last year. It’s seen as vital to maintaining peace in Northern Ireland. Britain left the bloc on Jan. 31 and a transition period meant to sort out a trade agreement to soften the economic blow of Brexit expires on Dec. 31.
“This protocol is a condition for preserving peace and for protecting the integrity of the single market. It’s also a pre-condition for confidence between us because everything that has been signed in the past must be respected,” EU negotiator Michel Barnier told French radio France Inter.
Barnier said he would ask for details from his British counterpart, David Frost, “to better understand the government’s intentions.” The two sides are meeting in London from Tuesday for their eighth round of negotiations. Barnier said last week he was “worried and disappointed” by the lack of progress.
Johnson is talking tough ahead of the negotiations. In remarks released in advance by his office, he is expected to say later on Monday that Britain could walk away from the talks within weeks and insist that a no-deal exit would be a “good outcome for the U.K.”
He is also set to say that an agreement must be sealed by an EU summit scheduled for Oct. 15. Barnier and the trade committee at the European Parliament, which must also endorse any agreement, insist that the negotiations must conclude before the end of October.