UK Government votes to break international law by passing Brexit Bill

The UK Government tonight voted to break international law despite claims it could threaten the Union.

Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 9:02 pm
Updated Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 9:21 pm
Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech in Exeter. Picture: Finnbarr Webster/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech in Exeter. Picture: Finnbarr Webster/PA Wire

Ministers had clashed with the EU over the Internal Market Bill, and had even admitted it breaks international law by overriding parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Despite warnings from every single living Prime Minister and the US presidential candidate Joe Biden, Westminster today voted overwhelmingly to support the bill sparking fury across the devolved nations.

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The Scottish Government had already refused to put legislation forward for a formal consent vote at Holyrood, with Scottish ministers claiming it was a power grab that could "undermine" the devolution settlement.

The bill sailed through the House of Commons tonight by 340 votes to 256.

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In a fiery debate on the bill, the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford accused the UK Government of “breaking devolution".

He added: "What is happening with this Bill is that our Parliament, that has had the support of the people of Scotland, is being usurped and it's not getting more power, because, actually, read the Bill."

SNP business spokesman Drew Hendry described it as "dangerous" and having been shabbily produced.

He told the Commons: "This Bill is setting out to break international law. It's setting out to break devolution.

"It's setting in train the biggest power grab since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened and setting in train the race to lower standards and a race to the bottom on health protections and environmental standards.

"This is a [Dominic] Cummings-directed prime minister and a complicit Tory Government that have sought to justify law-breaking, democracy-reducing, shabbily produced, lazy and dangerous Bill with a breath-taking factionalism bordering on pseudologia fantastica."

The new powers enable the UK Government to be involved with spending in devolved areas without any engagement with those nations.

It also sets out new rules for the UK's internal market – how trade would work between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period in January.

The Bill proposed no new checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, giving ministers power to modify rules if not agreed with the EU and also the ability to override previous obligations on state aid.

Ministers insisted the bill created a "safety net" in case the EU interprets the agreement in an "extreme and unreasonable" way.

Designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, it seeks to change things already agreed in Boris Johnson's "oven ready" withdrawal agreement.

The NI Assembly earlier passed a motion rejecting the Internal Market Bill and any claim it was needed to protect the Belfast Agreement.

Alliance MP Stephen Farry (North Down) told the Commons: "At the outset I want to be extremely clear - the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, and indeed most businesses in Northern Ireland, do not want to see the Government breaking or threatening to break international law, period. And they certainly do not want to see it happening on their behalf.

“The Government is not doing this for the good of the people of Northern Ireland. In fact, the breaking of international law undermines the Good Friday Agreement, which itself is something that is lodged and part of international law.

"And in particular, breaking the Withdrawal Agreement and undermining the protocol doesn't help our businesses one bit. Instead it places them in a much more uncertain legal situation for doing business.”The Labour party had tabled an amendment to the sections of the legislation that allowed the UK to override the Brexit divorce deal, only to be dismissed by the Government.

Business minister Paul Scully insisted: "The Government has already been clear that these clauses are required to provide a safety net of powers in reserve.”

Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie defended the bill and accused the SNP of "hyperbole".

He said: “This is a bill that underpins the transfer of vast powers over the everyday life of their constituents from Brussels to Edinburgh, yet the SNP claim that somehow yet again we are engaged in some power grab.“This bill is good for Scottish people, for Scottish consumers and the entire United Kingdom.”

The Lib Dems also spoke out against the Bill, with MP Christine Jardine saying it put the union at risk.

She explained: "This Bill doesn't respect the devolution settlement and risks getting us into a very high stakes game with the SNP when the country least needs it.

“This is just a bad bill, which shows scant regard for international law and risks irreparable damage to the UK's reputation.”

The Bill will now go to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.

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