The prime minister was immediately accused of bringing a no-deal Brexit significantly closer – risking the end of the trade negotiations as early as this week.
The change would also undermine the still-fragile peace in Northern Ireland and the UK’s worldwide reputation, as it reneged on an international agreement signed less than a year ago, it was said.
Colum Eastwood, the leader of the SDLP said: “It’s absolutely astonishing that any government who says they want to go and do trade deals around the world would just rip up an agreement that they made a few months ago with the European Union.”
And Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, tweeted ominously: “This would be a very unwise way to proceed.”
Louise Haigh MP, Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary, said: “It beggars belief that the government is – yet again – playing a dangerous game in Northern Ireland and sacrificing our international standing at the altar of the prime minister’s incompetence.”
The high-wire move – an Internal Market Bill due to be published on Wednesday – comes after Mr Johnson threatened a walk-out from the talks if there is no agreement by 15 October.
He also described a no-deal outcome – which would cause massive border disruption, risk a fresh recession and undermine security cooperation – as “a good outcome”.
Downing Street is expected to argue the new bill is a fallback option, should the trade talks fail, but it is certain to inflame Brussels negotiators.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies