British officials are prepared to drop the controversial legislation of the Boris Johnsons Brexit law in a move that could revive failed talks with the European Union, according to people familiar with the matter.
Negotiations on future relations between the two sides have stalled, with the prime minister announcing on Friday that he would focus on preparations to leave the EU single market and customs union at the end of the year without a trade deal – though he is still open to talks if the bloc changes its stance.
One hurdle facing negotiators is rebuilding confidence that was badly damaged by the Johnsons UK Internal Market Bill, which rewrote parts of the Brexit withdrawal deal it struck with the EU last year. The bloc is taking legal action against the UK and European leaders have demanded that Johnson remove controversial trade clauses with Northern Ireland as the price of any wider deal.
So far, the prime minister has refused, but his officials believe Parliament will force his hand when members of the House of Lords – the UK’s unelected upper house – remove clauses that would violate international law.
The bill begins its progress through the Lords on Monday. Lawmakers there are unlikely to reject the bill outright this week, but it is certain they will get the most controversial parts in the coming weeks, people familiar with the governments’ position said.
This will force Johnson to decide how hard to fight to keep the clauses. People said they expected Johnson to remove or dilute the toughest parts of the law if he secures a comprehensive trade deal with the EU, potentially as part of negotiations with the bloc.
One person suggested that the law itself was always a negotiation tactic. Another said ministers would be willing to agree to add additional guarantees to dilute the most controversial powers in the bill, which may not be necessary if a new EU agreement can be reached.
The bill gives UK ministers the power to unilaterally rewrite trade rules with Northern Ireland – the focus of one of the richest negotiations of the entire Brexit process as both sides tried to avoid the return of checkpoints on the border with the Republic.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove will hold talks on issues covered by the new law at a joint EU committee meeting with Maros Sefcovic on Monday. Johnsons chief negotiator David Frost will also discuss the state of play with Michel Barnier, his reverse number from the block, earlier in the week.
In a round of interviews broadcast Sunday, Gove said the door was still closed for talks, but he was less hopeful than had been in recent weeks that a new trade deal would be reached.
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