UK's Johnson attacks European Union after winning vote to breach Brexit agreement

Marco Green
September 15, 2020

The government welcomed the Commons vote to give the UK Internal Market Bill a second reading, saying that it was now critical that the legislation completed its passage through Parliament by the end of the year. The government has described it as a "vital legal safety net".

But it has attracted a swathe of criticism (we'll explain why later).

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a rebellion by more than 30 Conservative lawmakers on Monday night (14 September) as his controversial Internal Market bill moved a step closer to becoming law.

Conservative MP Rehman Chishti tweeted earlier that he had written to Boris Johnson to resign in protest over the Bill.

Why has the bill been criticised?

That deal, known as the withdrawal agreement, is a fully fledged global treaty. It is a legal agreement.

Luxembourg MEP Christophe Hansen told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that the European Union now fears that non-compliance with the Withdrawal Agreement could pose major damage to the internal European Union market and the Irish peace project.

A key part of the agreement on trade is the Northern Ireland protocol created to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland.

In the Commons, Mr Johnson - who took the unusual step of opening the debate himself - said the "protective" measures were necessary because the European Union was now trying to "leverage" the Northern Ireland protocol in the talks on a post-Brexit free trade deal.

The DUP's East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said: "If this bill is an attempt to undo some of the damage which was done by the Withdrawal Agreement, and to respond to the points which Arlene Foster and other ministers have pressed the government to address, then we welcome it".

Critics say backtracking on a legally binding treaty would harm the UK's reputation and global standing.

"Additionally section 38 of the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 states clearly that our Parliament is sovereign: a position that does not normally need to be stated by any normal independent country".

Mr Johnson, meanwhile, has said the government is simply seeking to avoid disruption and protect the integrity of the UK.

Helen Grant MP for Maidstone and the Weald will also support the bill. Under the proposed law, they would have to accept goods at the standards set in any one country, prompting fears that quality controls for things like food could be dragged down to a lowest common denominator.

Johnson put forward the bill in Monday's debate with the claim that the EU was trying to force the United Kingdom to accept certain regulations and that the European bloc had threatened to use "an extreme interpretation" of the withdrawal agreement in order to do so.

But the controversy over this bill is threatening to derail the discussions which are already deadlocked, with time is running out.

The PM said it is "necessary" to row back on aspects of a Brexit agreement - and in the process breach global law - in order to "stop a foreign power from breaking up our country".

Mr Johnson said some on the EU side even wanted to designate all goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland as being "at risk" of entering the EU single market, making them liable to EU tariffs.

There are also domestic political implications to consider. All of Britain's living former prime ministers have expressed concern about his plan as have many senior figures in his Conservative Party.

Now the bill has passed its second reading, it will face four more days of debate on its fine print - a stage at which lawmakers can try to insert revisions that could change the entire meaning of the bill, or even kill it.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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