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Top UK Bishops Slam Brexit Bill        10/19 06:21


   LONDON (AP) -- The U.K.'s most senior Anglican bishops warned Monday that 
legislation breaching part of the Brexit divorce agreement the government 
signed with the European Union will set a "disastrous precedent" and could 
undermine peace in Northern Ireland.

   The warning came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government told British 
businesses to prepare for a no-deal economic break with the EU in 10 weeks' 
time, after the U.K. declared negotiations on future trade ties at an end 
unless the bloc makes major concessions.

   In a letter published in the Financial Times, the top archbishops in 
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said the government's 
Brexit-related Internal Market Bill would give the government power to break 
international law and had "enormous moral, as well as political and legal, 

   "We believe this would create a disastrous precedent," said the letter, 
signed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who heads the Church of 
England, and four other archbishops.

   "If carefully negotiated terms are not honored and laws can be 'legally' 
broken, on what foundations does our democracy stand?" they asked.

   The Internal Market Bill has been approved by the House of Commons and 
begins its passage through the House of Lords on Monday. It is likely to face 
strong opposition in Parliament's upper chamber, where the governing 
Conservative Party does not have a majority.

   The bill has triggered a crisis of trust between Britain and the EU, who 
have been attempting to strike a new trade deal since the U.K. left the bloc on 
Jan. 31.

   If passed, the bill will allow the British government to override parts of 
the legally binding Brexit withdrawal agreement relating to trade with Northern 
Ireland, the only part of the U.K. to share a border with the EU.

   British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government says it needs the 
legislation as an insurance policy in case the EU behaves unreasonably after a 
post-Brexit transition period ends on Dec. 31 and tries to impede the flow of 
goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

   The bloc sees it as a flagrant breach of an international treaty that could 
undermine the delicate foundations of Northern Ireland's peace settlement, 
created by the 1998 Good Friday accord.

   The bill soured talks aimed at securing a new trade deal between Britain and 
the EU. Those talks ground to a halt last week, with each side calling for the 
other to compromise in order to secure a deal. The EU said it was happy to keep 
talking, but the British government declared that the talks were over unless 
there was a "fundamental" shift from the bloc.

   Despite that hard line, Britain's Brexit preparations minister, Michael 
Gove, said the door to talks was still "ajar." The two sides' chief 
negotiators, Michel Barnier for the EU and Britain's David Frost, are expected 
to speak by phone Monday.

   Negotiations are gridlocked on the issues of fishing --- highly symbolic for 
maritime nations on both sides --- and rules to ensure common regulatory 
standards and fair competition. The EU fears the U.K. will gain an unfair 
advantage by slashing food, workplace and environmental standards and pumping 
state money into businesses once it is free of the bloc's rules.

   Britain accuses the bloc of seeking to impose demands that it has not placed 
on other countries it has free trade deals with, such as Canada.

   If there is no deal, businesses on both sides of the English Channel face 
tariffs and other obstacles to trade starting Jan. 1. British business groups 
warn that could mean border delays, soaring prices and shortages of some goods.

   Even with an agreement, British firms will have to fill out customs 
declarations and other paperwork, because the U.K. is leaving the bloc's vast 
single market.

   The British government launched an ad campaign Monday telling businesses to 
get ready for the end of decades of seamless trade with the Continent.

   But many firms say the government has not supplied the support structures 
they need, including tens of thousands of customs agents.

   "It's a lot of red tape, and we know that preparations have gone backwards 
because of the impact of COVID," said Carolyn Fairbairn, head of the 
Confederation of British Industry. "So this is deeply challenging for many 

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