• EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that Boris Johnson took the explosive step of reneging on the Brexit deal to divert attention from the UK's coronavirus response, according to a report.
  • Politico reported that the EU's chief Brexit negotiator floated the possibility in a meeting with senior diplomats.
  • Prime Minister Johnson is under intense pressure to improve Britain's testing facilities amid a sharp rise in new COVID-19 infections.
  • Last week his government revealed a contentious plan to break international law by disapplying parts of the Northern Ireland protocol agreed with the EU.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator has reportedly claimed that Boris Johnson took the contentious decision to renege on his Brexit deal with the EU in order to distract from the UK government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Politico reported that Michel Barnier on Monday told senior diplomats from eight eastern EU member states that criticism of how the UK government was handling a potential second wave of the virus may have led Johnson to take the decision to rewrite parts of the protocol for Northern Ireland, citing three people sources familiar with the briefing.

Johnson's UK government last week caused consternation in London and Brussels when it admitted that its plan to disapply parts of the Northern Ireland protocol agreed with the EU last year would break international law.

Brussels reacted furiously to the move, warning Prime Minister Johnson that it would consider legal action if he did not scrap the plan by the end of the month. Johnson is in talks with Conservative members of Parliament opposed to the move about a potential compromise in order to avoid a sizeable parliamentary rebellion next week.

Discussing the move with the diplomats on Monday, Barnier suggested that Johnson had taken the explosive step in order to divert attention away from the UK government's recent struggles in combating the virus, Politico reports.

Johnson's government is under intense pressure to improve the UK's testing capacity amid cases nationwide of people seeking tests being instructed to travel to another part of the country, or tests not being available at all.

New infections are sharply on the rise again in the UK after Johnson's government re-opened large parts of the economy earlier in the summer. There were 3,105 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, according to official figures. This was just the fourth time daily new cases was over 3,000 since the height of the pandemic in May.

In his conversation with diplomats, Barnier also floated a theory popular in Westminster that Johnson reneged on the Withdrawal Agreement in an attempt to gain leverage in trade negotiations with the bloc. However, he also suggested that the UK side was pursuing a chaotic, no-deal exit from the Brexit transition period, sources told Politico.

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