Plymouth MP joins Tory rebels over Brexit bill vote
Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces growing opposition over bid to override the Withdrawal Agreement.by Max Channon
A Conservative MP in Plymouth has become the latest to announce he will be rebelling against Prime Minister Boris Johnson over a controversial Brexit bill amendment.
The charge to defy the Government and vote against a controversial bill seeking to override the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is being led by Devon MP and former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.
The MP for Torridge and West Devon says Mr Johnson knew what he was signing up at the time and should not try to override it illegally - and doing so risks "unconscionable" damage to the UK's reputation.
Now, South West Devon MP Gary Streeter has announced he will not be supporting the the Government over the Internal Market Bill.
On Twitter, Mr Streeter said: "I will explain my reasons in my Facebook article later this week. Those constituents who have emailed me will get a response today."
Before entering politics, Mr Streeter was a partner at large local law firm Foot & Bowden, now known as Foot Anstey.
His stance is dividing opinion on Twitter, with some accusing him of a "shameful betrayal" and other saying it is "the right stand" because "the rule of law is crucial".
The UK negotiated and signed the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU in January, but a key element of that agreement concerning the Northern Ireland Protocol is now in dispute.
Plymouth Labour MP Luke Pollard has said he "wants to get a Brexit deal done" but "cannot vote for a bill that breaks international law and damages the Good Friday Agreement".
In a statement on his website, he said: "Britain is a nation that has always respected the rule of law. Our international reputation is founded on not only our respect for the rule of law but as being a nation that can be trusted to honour its word. That is why the current mess with the Government intending on breaking international law is so worrying
"Labour is absolutely clear that this is not about Leave versus Remain. That debate is over – we left the EU earlier this year. And leading Tory Brexiteers have also criticised the government’s cavalier approach to international law.
"This is about Britain’s reputation, not Brexit. Do we want to be a trustworthy nation that stands by its commitments? Do we want to be able to strike good trade deals with other countries? Do we want to be able to take on rogue states when they break international law? And how can stand up to Russia, Iran and China’s rule breaking if we are rule breakers too?
"Let’s truly think about what Boris Johnson has been saying – this is an agreement he negotiated and signed himself, and he is now saying it contains serious problems that could break up our country. That’s a monumental admission of failure. Did he not read the deal he signed? When people like me flagged problems with the deal that made me unable to vote for it, why didn’t he listen? Every single south west Conservative MP voted for the withdrawal agreement, did they not read it or did they not understand it?
"The Prime Minister has also said there was a “misunderstanding” about the Withdrawal Agreement. That is an out and out lie. The issues of state aid and customs declarations have been explicitly flagged to the government on multiple occasions.
"Britain’s greatness is built upon our values and the fact we have long stood up for the rule of law. Boris Johnson wants to throw all that away by disregarding an international treaty he personally negotiated and signed up to, undermining our standing in the world.
"This is not only morally wrong, but incompetent. Breaking our word will do us no favours when it comes to negotiating trade deals with other countries. The US democrats have already said as much. Breaking international law means those we do deals with will demand more oversight, more compliance, bigger penalties in agreements as they won’t be able to trust Britain to keep our word – what an awful indictment of our great nation.
"Boris Johnson and his ministers are used to u-turning – but tearing up their own international agreement which they negotiated and sold to the electorate themselves when the ink is barely dry, is a new low that will diminish Britain on the world stage and damage our reputation. A competent government would never have entered into a binding agreement with provisions it intended to go back on.
"The legislation also risks the integrity of the Union by undermining the devolution settlement. The Government has chosen to trump the process of agreeing common frameworks on key devolved matters – like agriculture and food standards. I am fighting to put Britain’s high food and farming standards in law because I do not trust the Government to stick to its word – and for good reason, look at this current mess.
"I cannot vote for a bill that trashes our international reputation, breaks international law and one that would damage the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland. I know there are a lot of people – who backed every party at the last general election – who are aghast at what the Conservatives are doing. With the virus rising, and more and more people disregarding the Government’s chaotic and confusing messages we need Ministers to stick to the law, and show it is not one rule for them and another for everyone else.
"There will be a series of votes this week, and possibly next week too. I will keep you informed about progress. As usual Plymouth, please let me know your thoughts."
Former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, a supporter of Brexit who has steadfastly backed Mr Johnson's efforts to break from the European Union, told Times Radio: "What I can say from my perspective is we simply cannot approve or endorse a situation in which we go back on our word, given solemnly not only by the British Government and on behalf of the British Crown, but also by Parliament when we ratified this in February, unless there are extreme circumstances which arrive involving a breach of duty of the good faith by the EU.
"In those circumstances, there are then lawful remedies open to us and it is those we should take rather than violating international law and a solemn treaty.
"The breaking of the law leads ultimately to very long-term and permanent damage to this country’s reputation and it is also a question of honour to me – we signed up, we knew what we were signing, we simply can’t seek to nullify those ordinary consequences of doing that and I simply can’t support that.
"But, as I’ve said, there may be circumstances in which these powers could be lawfully used and it is those circumstances that the Government needs to define, I believe, to get the support of people like me.
"And, may I say, I find myself in a very sad position – I’m a strong supporter of this Government, I’m a strong supporter of Brexit, but for me the crossing of an important boundary is when the Government says it is going to break the law and a treaty it signed."
Mr Cox said there are "legal measures available" for tackling any attempt by the European Union to prevent food being transported between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The former attorney general told Times Radio: "The problem for me is that, on the face of the Bill, the powers could be used in any circumstances, whether emergency or otherwise.
"And, in any event, to use them would violate a treaty and there are lawful measures available to the Government to challenge unlawful behaviour by the EU.”
Tory former prime minister David Cameron has also raised concerns about the bill and what is being proposed.
"Passing an Act of Parliament and then going on to break an international treaty obligation is the very, very last thing you should contemplate," Mr Cameron said.
"It should be an absolute final resort.
"So, I do have misgivings about what’s being proposed."