Boris Johnson told MPs he believes the EU may not be negotiating in good faith with the UK.
The PM was explaining why he wanted to crush parts of the Brexit deal he signed with the EU in January.
He said it was to prevent the EU from behaving “unreasonably” if the UK fails to secure a trade deal.
Pressed by Hilary Benn of Labor on whether he thought the EU was negotiating in good faith, he said: “I don’t think they are”.
This contradicts Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who earlier told MPs he believed the EU was acting in good faith.
When presented to him, Mr Johnson said it was ‘always possible that I was wrong and they may prove my suspicions to be false’.
Both parties have a duty to act in good faith under Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement – but it is difficult to demonstrate a lack of “good faith” or “best efforts” – another inscribed phrase in the treaty.
The legal definition of “good faith” is stronger than the generally accepted meaning of the words.
Mr Johnson told the Liaison Committee, a panel of senior backbenchers, that a no-deal scenario was’ not what this country wants’ and ‘that is not what our friends and partners of the EU expect us ”.
“Therefore, I have every hope and hope that this will not be the result. ”
It comes as the PM seeks to avert a potential rebellion from Tory MPs over his plan to rewrite parts of the Withdrawal Agreement.
More than 30 Conservative MPs were due to vote for an amendment to the internal market bill next week.
If passed, Sir Bob Neill’s amendment would have given MEPs the final say on the changes to the Withdrawal Agreement that are proposed in the Home Market Bill.
The Prime Minister has now promised to give MPs “an extra layer of parliamentary control,” according to the BBC.
‘Belt and suspenders’
BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said ministers’ hope is that this “will prevent rebellion next week”.
Mr Johnson says the Internal Market Bill is necessary to protect the UK’s “territorial integrity” if trade talks with the EU fail.
He described it to MEPs as a “belt and suspenders” measure in the event of “extreme” interpretations of the withdrawal agreement by the EU.
The bill was intended “to ensure that friends and partners do not do anything unreasonable,” he added.
But it sparked a backlash from the EU, which threatened legal action – and the possible suspension of trade negotiations – if not withdrawn.
Brandon Lewis admitted last week – in response to a Commons question from Conservative MP Sir Bob Neill – that the bill would violate international law in a “specific and limited” way.
His words prompted the resignation of a senior government law official and the sentencing of the five living former prime ministers, who warned it threatened the UK’s reputation for upholding international treaties and laws.
A number of Tory MPs abstained or voted against the bill on Monday – and many were due to support Sir Bob Neill’s amendment next week.
“Legal safety net”
In Document I, Sir Bob said his amendment “seeks to put a parliamentary lock on the powers that the government seeks to give itself”.
He added: “Taking a hammer on the whole bill would be a bad approach.
“There is a lot of good in it, with 51 of its 54 clauses quite harmless to the vast majority.
“However, the seriousness of the three remaining clauses requires, at the very least, additional checks and balances.
“My amendment would ensure that additional parliamentary approval is obtained before the government can offload them. ”
Speaking earlier, Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson said the Prime Minister and his team “are in discussions with MPs about the bill and the importance of creating the legal safety net”.
He confirmed that the Prime Minister had spoken to Sir Bob and said “conversations with MPs will continue”.
What is the Internal Market Bill?
The bill sets the rules for the functioning of the UK internal market – trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – after the Brexit transition period ends in January.
- No new controls on goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of Great Britain
- Give UK ministers the power to change or ‘do away with’ the rules on the movement of goods which will come into effect from January 1 if the UK and the EU fail to reach an alternative deal by the through a trade agreement
- Powers to derogate from previously agreed state aid obligations – government support to businesses.
The bill explicitly states that these powers should apply even if they are incompatible with international law.
Ministers say legislation is needed to prevent “damaging” tariffs on goods traveling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland if negotiations with the EU on a free trade deal fail.
But some senior conservatives – including former Prime Minister John Major – have warned that it risks undermining the UK’s reputation as a defender of international law.
The legislation has also proved controversial with decentralized administrations, which are concerned about how the UK’s ‘internal market’ will work after Brexit and who will set regulations and standards.