LONDON — The U.K. government will drop proposed laws that the EU had warned would undermine last year’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and poisoned the atmosphere around trade talks, ministers announced Tuesday.
In simultaneous statements posted on Twitter, U.K. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and his European Commission counterpart Maroš Šefčovič said “agreement in principle” had been reached on all issues being worked on by the Joint Committee, which oversees the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.
In a further joint statement, the two sides said the “mutually agreed solutions” meant the U.K. could withdraw controversial clauses from its Internal Market Bill, as well as “similar provisions” planned for the upcoming Taxation Bill.
Ministers had previously admitted the clauses, affecting the rules of trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. after Brexit, would break international law by undercutting what was agreed with the EU as part of the Northern Ireland protocol element of last year’s Brexit divorce deal. The U.K.’s proposals drew widespread criticism, including from Joe Biden.
The successful conclusion of the joint committee discussions, while separate from the wider Brexit negotiation on a future relationship and trade agreement, will be seen as a positive step in Brussels, where the proposed U.K. laws were viewed as a breach of good faith when they were announced earlier this year.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney welcomed the resolution.
“I very much welcome the positive news announced today that agreement in principle has been reached on the outstanding issues on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland,” he said. “I hope this may also provide some of the positive momentum necessary to instil confidence and trust and allow progress in the wider context of the future relationship negotiations.”
The joint statement listed the technical areas where agreement in principle had been found, including: rules surrounding border control posts and entry points, “specifically for checks on animals, plants and derived products;” export declarations; supply of medicines, chilled meats, and other food products; and clarification on the use of state aid under the terms of the protocol.
Agreement had also been reached, the statement said, on “practical arrangements regarding the EU’s presence in Northern Ireland when U.K. authorities implement checks and controls under the protocol;” the criteria for goods to be considered “not at risk” of entering the EU when moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland; plus an exemption for agricultural and fish subsidies from state aid rules.
Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland retail consortium, said in a statement the news was “very welcome and is hugely positive.” But he added businesses in Northern Ireland would need technical details as soon as possible. “We still need the conclusion of a free trade agreement to remove customs frictions and with three weeks left to go we still will need an implementation period to allow us to comply with the new requirements,” he added.
The U.K. and the EU had also agreed on the list of chairpersons for an arbitration panel, as part of the dispute settlement mechanism envisioned in last year’s Brexit deal.
A further meeting of the joint committee is expected to take place before the end of the year to allow both sides to formally adopt the agreement.
Want more analysis from POLITICO? POLITICO Pro is our premium intelligence service for professionals. From financial services to trade, technology, cybersecurity and more, Pro delivers real time intelligence, deep insight and breaking scoops you need to keep one step ahead. Email [email protected] to request a complimentary trial.