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Johnson annoys EU as it clears first hurdle for Brexit breach

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LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attacked the European Union on Monday as it won initial approval for a plan to violate the Brexit treaty, saying the move was necessary because the bloc had refused to take a revolver off the table in trade talks.

Photo Photo: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at a press conference on the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in Downing Street, London, UK September 9, 2020. Stefan Rousseau / Swimming pool through REUTERS

Johnson won the so-called second reading parliamentary vote on the Internal Market Bill 340 by 263. A devastating amendment was defeated shortly before, though more will follow as he faces a growing rebellion in his party.

The EU says Johnson’s law will disrupt trade talks and lead the UK to a messy Brexit as former British leaders have warned that breaking the law is a far cry from damaging the country’s image.

Johnson, however, said it was essential to counter absurd threats from Brussels, including London imposing trade barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland and imposing a food blockade – steps he said threatened the unity of the United Kingdom.

The EU has not yet removed this revolver from the table, Johnson told parliament before the vote. What we can not do now is to tolerate a situation where our EU counterparts seriously believe they have the power to destroy our country.

The EU has demanded that Britain remove key parts of the bill by the end of September and that if not, there will be no trade deal by the end of the year to cover everything from car parts to food.

To back up its message, the European Commission has delayed a crucial decision to allow London to continue clearing euro transactions for EU-based clients, a fuel source told Reuters.

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MORE DEBATE FORWARD

Johnson made it clear he would move forward with the bill he touted as a safeguard policy aimed at preventing a foreign power from splitting the UK using Northern Ireland as a lever.

However, many lawmakers are concerned about such a blatant attempt to violate international law. All five Britons living as former prime ministers have expressed concern about his plan.

I understand how some people will feel anxious about using these powers and I share that thought myself, Johnson said. They are a security policy and if we reach an agreement with our European friends, which I still believe is possible, they will never be called.

But some EU diplomats believe London is playing a chicken game, calling for the collapse of trade talks to either get the deal it wants or leave without a deal.

Now that the bill has passed its second reading, it will face four days of debate over its petty repression – a stage at which lawmakers can try to introduce revisions that could change the whole meaning of the bill , or even kill him.

The main battleground is likely to be an attempt by Bob Neill, a Conservative lawmaker, to amend the bill to ensure that any attempt to use the clauses violating the Brexit divorce agreement receive prior approval from parliament.

Written by Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden; additional reports by Huw Jones, Kate Holton, Estelle Shirbon, Alistair Smout and Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Jon Boyle, Alex Richardson and Cynthia Osterman

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