A smoke grenade for the Brexit talks

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At first glance, it looks like a grenade thrown into the middle of the Brexit talks.

The FT reports — based on three unnamed sources — that the U.K. plans to undermine key elements of the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement by introducing its own laws overriding some of the agreement’s provisions on state aid and customs relating to Northern Ireland.

Going back on an international agreement would be huge step and could indeed blow up the talks — as Ursula von der Leyen made clear on Twitter. But is that really what the U.K. is proposing?

No, insists No 10.

“We are fully committed to implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol and we’ve already taken many practical steps to do so,” Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said today in response to the story. In No. 10’s telling, the new measures are simply legal safeguards should the Joint Committee (the talks — running parallel to the Frost-Barnier trade negotiation — which are determining how the NI protocol should be implemented) fail to resolve some key issues in time for the end of the transition period.

The Brexit story No. 10 wanted the EU to see today is a different one: Boris Johnson’s statement setting a mid-October deadline on the talks.

The new provisions in U.K. law reported by the FT — which will be laid out in the Internal Markets Bill on Wednesday and the Finance Bill after the Budget — are merely “limited and reasonable steps”

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