THE prospect of a Brexit free trade deal with Britain is fading fast, the President of the European Commission has declared – while strongly backing Ireland over the latest gambit by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
With every day that passes the chances of a timely agreement start to fade,” warned Ursula von der Leyen in her ‘State of the Union’ address to the European Parliament.
She said the Withdrawal Agreement – now being breached by the terms of the Internal Market Bill as it passes through the UK’s House of Commons – is “the best and only way for ensuring peace on the island of Ireland”.
Ms von der Leyen vowed: “We will never backtrack on that.”
The Withdrawal Agreement had been ratified by the House of Commons, as well as the European Parliament, she pointed out.
“It cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied. This a matter of law, trust and good faith,” she declared as MEPs erupted in applause.
“And that is not just me saying it,” she added, reminding them of the words of Margaret Thatcher.
The former Tory Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 once declared: “Britain does not break treaties. It would be bad for Britain, bad for relations with the rest of the world, and bad for any future treaty on trade.”
Ms von der Leyen said: “This was true then, and it is true today.
“Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership.”
On the wider talks on Britain’s future relations with the EU, with their huge implications for Irish exports, she said: “Negotiations are always difficult. We are used to that.”
The Commission has “the best and most experienced negotiator” in Michel Barnier to navigate the EU through the maze of discussions, she said, indirectly offering a reflection on the UK talks team.
“Talks have not progressed as we would have wished. And that leaves us very little time,” she said.
The Withdrawal Agreement had taken three years to negotiate, she said, “and we worked relentlessly on it. Line by line, word by word.
“Together we succeeded. The result guarantees our citizens’ rights, financial interests, the integrity of the Single Market – and, crucially, the Good Friday Agreement.
“The EU and the UK jointly agreed it was the best and only way for ensuring peace on the island of Ireland.
“And we will never backtrack on that,” she added.