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Brexit deal is only way to guarantee Northern Ireland peace process, warns EC president

Ursula von der Leyen said setting aside the Withdrawal Agreement will undermine trust.

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Ursula von der Leyen has warned Britain not to set aside the Withdrawal Agreement (Yui Mok/PA)

Ursula von der Leyen has warned Britain not to set aside the Withdrawal Agreement (Yui Mok/PA)

Ursula von der Leyen has warned Britain not to set aside the Withdrawal Agreement (Yui Mok/PA)

The UK cannot unilaterally set aside the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement signed by Boris Johnson, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has warned.

In her annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament, Mrs von der Leyen said both sides had agreed it was the only way to guarantee the Northern Ireland peace process.

She said trust would be undermined if the UK started to go back on its international treaty obligations.

The warning came after the Government issued legislation enabling ministers to override provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland.

This agreement has been ratified by this house and the House of Commons. It cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded, disappliedUrsula von der Leyen

Mr Johnson has insisted it is intended to provide a legal “safety net” to protect the peace process and ensure the EU could not impose tariffs on goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Addressing the Parliament in Brussels, Mrs von der Leyen said: “This Withdrawal Agreement took three years to negotiate and we worked relentlessly on it line-by-line, word-by-word, and together we succeeded.

“The European Union and the UK jointly agreed that it was the best and only way for ensuring peace on the island of Ireland and we will never backtrack on that.

“This agreement has been ratified by this house and the House of Commons. It cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded, disapplied.

“This is a matter of law and trust and good faith.”

Mrs von der Leyen said Margaret Thatcher had always insisted the UK honoured its treaty commitments.

She quoted the former prime minister as saying: “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.”

Mrs von der Leyen added: “This was true then and this is true today. Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership.”

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill are only intended for use if the EU reneged on its treaty obligations.

“If we reach that stage, the reason for it is because we judge that sadly, despite everybody’s best efforts, the EU is in a position where we think they are actually breaching their obligations to us,” he told Sky News.

“I would like to avoid that, I think we can, but we do need to just prepare for that contingency, that ‘break glass in case of emergency’ provision, which I believe this is.”

PA