European Union officials insisted the Government’s Internal Market Bill would still be in breach of international law even if MPs are offered more oversight over the legislation. The Prime Minister offered to work with Conservative backbenchers to defuse a revolt led by Commons justice committee chairman Sir Bob Neil. Under the proposed alterations to the Bill, MPs would be able to vote on whether Downing Street was allowed to tear up the Withdrawal Agreement.
But early interpretations of the plan were rejected by the bloc because the legislation still contains powers for ministers to overrule EU customs checks and state aid rules for Northern Ireland.
French Europe minister Clement Beaune angrily said: “I’m telling the British it won’t work.
“I hope this is a tactic and it will stop. It is a bad tactic. And it was demonstrated last week that we are not divided or weak.”
The compromise is not enough for the EU to withdraw its threat of legal action, insiders say.
A parliamentary “lock” is still a “no, no no”, according to one EU official familiar with the discussions in Brussels.
The bloc wants Mr Johnson to scrap the powers, “not put them in an ‘emergency use only box’ that MPs can unseal at a moment’s notice”, the source added.
European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said the EU would not continue trade talks with the UK until the legislation is scrapped.
He said: “We are concerned about the behaviour of the British Government.
“If the UK does not comply with the exit agreement, there will no longer be a bassi for a free-trade agreement between the EU and the UK.
“The UK Government must correct this before we continue to negotiate our political and economic relations.”
Despite the bloc’s threat to walk away from talks, Michel Barnier has been ordered to remain at the negotiating table.
“We have a legal track for this under the Withdrawal Agreement – let’s take our time with it.
“We would be doing a favour to the Brexiteers by suspending the talks. So that was never actually an option.”
The bloc is concerned a collapse in talks at such a critical juncture would not give both sides enough time to “reconnect” before the end of the transition period.