Boris Johnson has appealed to Tory MPs to support legislation that would breach international law in overriding parts of his Brexit deal on the grounds that it would “stop a foreign power” from “breaking up” the UK.
Mr Johnson was said to have to have told 250 MPs that controversial clauses in the UK Internal Market Bill are “necessary to stop a foreign power from breaking up our country”.
With senior Conservatives planning to amend the legislation, he was also said to have warned them against going “back to the miserable, squabbling days of last autumn”.
But during the call in which there were connection issues and no questions taken by Mr Johnson further fall-out from the move emerged from the EU.
Leaders in the European Parliament said they would “under no circumstances ratify” any trade deal reached if “UK authorities breach or threaten to breach” the Withdrawal Agreement.
Downing Street insisted a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU is still possible despite an increasingly bitter war of words with Brussels.
The European Commission has given the UK until the end of the month to drop legislation enabling ministers to override provisions in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland.
Following a stormy meeting in London on Thursday, the commission warned the UK was putting trade talks at risk and said it would “not be shy” of taking legal action.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman however reiterated the Government’s position that the provisions Bill remained “critical” to the preservation of the Northern Ireland peace process.
He said the UK would continue to strive for an agreement and called on the EU side to show greater “realism”.
MPs will begin debating the controversial Bill on Monday when it returns to the Commons.
The senior Conservative backbencher Sir Bob Neill, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee, is tabling an amendment to the Bill which he said would impose a “parliamentary lock” on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.
Among its supporters are former prime minister Theresa May and Damian Green, who was her deputy.
Amid the worsening atmosphere between London and Brussels, it emerged the EU had even raised the prospect that it could block exports of animal products from the UK once the current Brexit transition period comes to a close at the end of the year.
In a statement following the latest round of talks on Thursday, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there were “many uncertainties” about the UK’s animal hygiene regime.
He said “more clarity” was needed if Britain was to receive the “third-country listing” entitling it to export animal products to the EU.
On the British side, there was surprise at the comments as the UK continues to apply EU standards, although it is understood the issue has been raised previously in the negotiations.
A Government spokesman said: “It would be very unusual for the EU to go down this route and deny the UK listing.”
Ireland’s Europe minister Thomas Byrne said that, far from protecting the Good Friday Agreement, the UK’s actions posed a “serious risk” to the peace process.
“It’s a totally unacceptable way to do business.
“This was a unilateral provocative act,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
However, some Tory Brexiteers were urging Mr Johnson to go even further and to abandon the Withdrawal Agreement altogether.
Former minister Steve Baker said: “I think we should now be willing to repudiate the whole treaty on the basis of the EU’s bad faith, which in my mind is undoubted.”
With additional reporting by PA.