New legislation to change Brexit
Government denies it intends to breach international law over Brexit
The government has been forced to say that it will make only “minor clarifications in extremely specific circumstances” to the already-agreed Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. The statement comes following a story in the FT that claimed the UK’s new Internal Market Bill, due to be published on Wednesday, would “clearly and consciously” undermine the agreement in areas related to the Northern Ireland protocol that the two sides had previously agreed. The FT quoted a source as saying that the Bill will set “up UK law in opposition with obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement, and in full cognisance that this will breach international law.”
The Internal Market Bill is designed to ensure the “seamless functioning” of trade between England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland after Brexit. The Northern Ireland protocol, however, says that some checks on goods will be needed between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. This was a concession made by Boris Johnson to prevent Brexit talks from stalling last year over the issue of not having a so-called hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told the BBC that there were “a few loose ends” to be tidied up with the Northern Ireland protocol, while the PM’s spokesman said that the PM had authorised “limited and reasonable steps to clarify specific elements.”
Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth told BBC Radio 4 that the prime minister had “made promises and signed a treaty around these arrangements, and now he appears to be backing out of that.” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon went further and called the government “charlatans”, while Sinn Fein’s most senior politician in Northern Ireland, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, said that any backtracking would be a “treacherous betrayal”.
New legislation to change Brexit
All of this comes ahead of the arrival on Tuesday of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to continue with post-Brexit trade talks. He stressed that “everything that has been signed in the past must be respected; it is what underpins confidence going forward.”
The main stumbling block in these trade talks at present, other than fishing rights, is the EU’s insistence that the UK must sign up to some kind of level playing field on state aid rules.
ITV’s political editor Robert Peston wrote on his blog that, while it may seem strange that a Tory government could walk away from trade talks because it wanted to subsidise industry, subsidising hi-tech emerging industries such as artificial intelligence is a key plank of the PM’s chief advisor Dominic Cumming’s beliefs. Put simply, he does not want to see the UK fall further behind tech superpowers China and the USA in what is dubbed by some as the fourth industrial revolution.
Johnson also insisted that the UK and the EU must have reached a deal by 15th October otherwise it would be time to move on and prepare for no deal at the end of the year and the measures that need to be put in place for that.
There is some consideration being given to the idea that these events could, to a certain extent, be a bit of tough-talking ahead of Tuesday’s talks. Nonetheless, closer than usual attention will be paid on Wednesday when the Internal Market Bill is published to see what it actually says.