Senior Conservatives and Labor believe the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill breaks international law and is ruining the UK’s reputation abroad – but Brexiteers have put their weight behind it
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Boris Johnson today boasted he can get his plans to get his Brexit deal through Parliament by the end of the year, as key legislation cleared its first hurdle in the House of Commons.
It means the Prime Minister’s bid to unilaterally scrap parts of Northern Ireland’s Brexit deal cleared its first Commons hurdle after MPs voted 295 to 221, majority 74, to give key legislation at second reading.
The move has angered the EU and some Tories, who believe the legislation violates international law and undermines the UK’s global reputation.
Theresa May, who confirmed she would not support the law, launched a savage attack: ‘Do I consider it legal under international law? Will it achieve its goals? Does it at least save the UK’s standing in the eyes of the world? My answer to all three of these questions is no.”
The former Prime Minister said of the EU: “I take it that they are asking themselves why they should negotiate in detail with a government that is ready to sign an agreement, says it’s a victory and then tries to to tear up part of it in less than three years”.
The Prime Minister said the plan – which gives ministers the power to suspend parts of the post-Brexit trade pact in Northern Ireland – could now be implemented “quite quickly” with legislative proposals by the end of 2022.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, meanwhile, tried to downplay MPs’ concerns, arguing that the law has “strong legal grounds” and that the UK remains committed to seeking a negotiated solution.
Adam Gray / SWNS)
The legislation will give ministers new powers to overrule elements of the protocol, a move opposed by a majority of politicians from Stormont, the EU and US President Joe Biden.
The agreements currently require regulatory controls and customs declarations on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as the protocol was originally designed to allow Ireland’s land border to flow freely.
Under the new plan, green and red channels would be set up to eliminate additional paperwork for companies trading within the UK, but with full controls on goods entering the EU.
Northern Ireland would benefit from the same tax and spending policies as the rest of the UK, including VAT.
Most controversially, all disputes would be settled through independent arbitration rather than the European Court of Justice.
The EU Ambassador to the UK, João Vale de Almeida, also said the bill was both “illegal and unrealistic”.
A number of senior Tories shared their concerns about the legal status of the bill, which faces major obstacles to becoming law in the House of Lords.
Ex-Cabinet Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “Many of us are extremely concerned that the law is brazenly breaking a solemn international treaty.
“It’s ruining our international reputation, it’s threatening a trade war at a time when our economy is stagnant, and it’s putting us at odds with our most important ally.”
But the staunchly pro-Brexit European Research Group of Tory MPs should back the bill.
Labour’s David Lammy warned that “hypocrisy is corroding our foreign policy” after Britain urged countries like Iran, China and Russia to honor international commitments.
The hard-line DUP said it would consider returning to Stormont power-sharing arrangements once the bill passed the House of Commons.
The EU has repeatedly hinted that its own proposals would fix many of the worst delays at the Irish Sea border – and has launched renewed legal action against the UK.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he was “very disappointed” that the government was continuing with its “unlawful” unilateral approach.
But the stubbornly pro-Brexit European Research Group of Tory MPs backed the bill.
Speaking at the G7 summit in the German Alps, Mr Johnson claimed his fellow leaders are not even discussing the recent crisis in Britain’s EU deal.
“The interesting thing is how little that conversation is being had, certainly here,” he claimed.
“What we are trying to fix is something that I think is very important to our country, which is the balance of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.
“They have a tradition, a community that feels like things really don’t work the way they like or understand.”
The Prime Minister said the plan could be tabled “quite quickly”, despite warnings from the House of Lords that could pose a major obstacle to the bill becoming law.
Asked if that means by the end of the year, he added: “Yes, I think we could do it very quickly if Parliament is ready.”
The bill would create a “green channel” with no controls for goods entering Northern Ireland from the UK not destined for the Republic.
It would also allow products to be sold in Northern Ireland under EU or UK rules and give ministers more powers to change tax and spending policies in Northern Ireland.
Mr Johnson said: “You have unnecessary barriers to trade from the UK to Northern Ireland.
“All we’re saying is you can get rid of these without jeopardizing the EU’s internal market.”
The prime minister admitted he hoped he would put pressure on the EU’s chief negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, to be more flexible in talks to overhaul the system.
Naomi Smith, CEO of internationalist campaign group Best for Britain, responded after the vote: “On the same day he preached to the G7 on defending the rules-based world order, the Prime Minister pushed ahead with plans to break international law and bring the hard-won peace undermined in Northern Ireland.
“Johnson promised Brexit would give sovereign control to the UK Parliament, but the bill will instead give unprecedented and unaccountable powers to his incompetent and obsequious cabinet. It’s a disgrace to our international reputation.”
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/breaking-tories-back-boris-johnsons-27339818 Despite outrage, the Tories back Boris Johnson's law-breaking Brexit bill