Tory rebellion grows against 'unconscionable' plan to override Brexit dealby Sian Elvin
A growing number of Conservative Party politicians are rebelling against ‘unconscionable’ plans to override the Brexit deal.
Boris Johnson’s former attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, said there is ‘no doubt’ the Prime Minister knew the ‘unpalatable’ implications of the Withdrawal Agreement when it was signed.
The Tory MP, who was the chief law officer at the time, warned he would not back the Internal Market Bill unless ministers dispel the impression they plan to ‘permanently and unilaterally’ rewrite the agreement.
The QC and Brexiteer, who was attorney general during the unlawful suspension of Parliament, said tariffs and customs procedures on certain goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain were part of the deal.
Mr Cox wrote in The Times: ‘There can be no doubt that these were the known, unpalatable but inescapable, implications of the agreement.’
He said if the powers in the bill were used to ‘nullify those perfectly plain and foreseeable consequences’ then it would amount to the ‘unilateral abrogation of the treaty obligations’ signed in October.
‘It is unconscionable that this country, justly famous for its regard for the rule of law around the world, should act in such a way,’ he said.
Mr Cox has urged ministers to use the ‘clear and lawful’ options under the agreement to remedy their concerns that food imports may be blocked from Britain to Northern Ireland.
‘What ministers should not do, however provoked or frustrated they may feel about an impasse in negotiations, is to take or use powers permanently and unilaterally to rewrite portions of an international agreement into which this country freely entered just a few months ago,’ he said.
He added instead they could take ‘temporary and proportionate measures’ during an independent arbitration process.
It comes as MPs are set to hear the second reading of the Internal Market bill later today. Mr Johnson has a large majority in the Commons so is expected to win a vote over its principles.
But outrage has been fired at the bill from all angles. Five former Prime Ministers have now spoken out against the new legislation: David Cameron, Theresa May, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Sir John Major.
Mr Cameron said he had ‘misgivings’ over it and breaking an international treaty should be the ‘final resort’.
Sir John and Mr Blair wrote in the Sunday Times: ‘It raises questions that go far beyond the impact on Ireland, the peace process and negotiations for a trade deal – crucial though they are. It questions the very integrity of our nation.’
And Labour shadow business secretary and former leader Ed Miliband has now called the plan ‘legislative hooliganism’.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the former Labour leader said: ‘The fundamental thing is – I think we should take a step back – this is not normal.
‘I’ve come on your programme many times to discuss many issues – I have never been on your programme discussing a British government coming along and seeking to break international law, an agreement it signed.
‘It is honestly a sad day and that’s why I think you hear people across the political spectrum condemning the Government.
‘Of the most sensitive issues around Northern Ireland, at the most sensitive stage of the Brexit negotiations – I mean it’s sort of legislative hooliganism that the Government is engaged in and it will be self-defeating, I fear.’
Justice secretary Robert Buckland had earlier said the controversial powers amounted to a ‘break the glass in emergency provision if we need it’ and said he did not believe they would be used.
He said on The Andrew Marr Show he would resign ‘if I see the rule of law being broken in a way I find unacceptable’, and insisted ministers were committed to getting a trade deal with the EU.
But the chances of a free trade deal being struck are hanging in the balance – Downing Street’s chief negotiator Lord Frost is heading to Brussels for informal talks about it this week.
Mr Johnson warned Brussels could ‘carve-up our country’ without his new bill.
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