EU willing to go to ‘extreme and unreasonable lengths’ over Brexit talks, says PM

The prime minister has accused the EU of going to “extreme and unreasonable” lengths over the Northern Ireland protocol, as he defended his law-breaking Brexit bill in the Commons.

Boris Johnson told MPs that the European Union is attempting to use Northern Ireland to “exert leverage against the UK” in negotiations for a free trade deal.

He added that “we cannot have a situation where the very boundaries of our country could be dictated by a foreign power or international organisation,” and urged the Commons to avoid more Brexit deadlock.

The prime minister spoke as he opened up the debate on the controversial Internal Market Bill.

The legislation will seek to override parts of the agreed EU Withdrawal Agreement, in an effort to ensure trade between all four home nations remains barrier-free after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

Mr Johnson told the Commons: “I regret to have to tell the House that in recent months the EU has suggested that it is willing to go to extreme and unreasonable lengths using the Northern Ireland protocol in a way that goes well beyond common sense simply to exert leverage against the UK in our negotiations for a free trade agreement.

“To take the most glaring example the EU has said that if we fail to reach an agreement to their satisfaction they might very well refuse to list the UK’s food and agricultural products for sale anywhere in the EU.

“And it gets even worse. Because under this protocol that decision would create an instant and automatic prohibition on the transfer of our animal products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“Our interlocutors on the other side are holding out the possibility of blockading food and agriculture transports within our own country.”

Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, who is filling in for the self-isolating Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, responded to Mr Johnson, saying the questions around the bill went to the “heart of who we are as a country”, adding Labour will not be supporting the legislation.

Former prime ministers Theresa May and David Cameron are among the Conservative voices criticising the bill, which Mr Johnson described as a “safety net” and an “insurance policy”.

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said the government has plunged “into ever-deeper chaos and disgrace” and has been “verbally slaughtered by a Brexiteer” over the Internal Market Bill.

“This is about a bill that breaches the terms of a treaty where the ink is barely dry,” he says, urging Conservative MPs to vote against the government.