BORIS JOHNSON has suffered a major blow after one of his special envoys resigned over his plan which risks overriding parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement with the European Union through the Government’s Internal Market Bill.
Rehman Chishti, who is Boris Johnson’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief and also MP for Gillingham and Rainham Flag, wrote on Twitter he “can’t support Internal Market Bill in its current form”. He said alongside the resignation letter he has sent to Mr Johnson: “I’ve written to the PM resigning as PM’s Special Envoy on FoRB. I can’t support Internal Market Bill in its current form, which unilaterally break UK’s legal commitments. As an MP for 10yrs & former Barrister, values of respecting rule of law & honouring one’s word are dear to me.”
The plan from the Prime Minister to defy international law with legislation that breaches parts of the Brexit divorce deal faces a vote in the House of Commons on Monday.
Parliament will debate the Internal Market Bill, with ministers then voting to decide if the legislation should proceeed to the House of Lords, where opposition from Conservative members is expected to be even stronger.
But the Mr Johnson, who has an 80-seat majority in the Commons, is facing a revolt from some of his own ministers, while former Prime Ministers including David Cameron, Theresa May and Tony Blair have all criticised the plan.
Geoffrey Cox, who served as attorney general under Mr Johnson before he left the role in February, said it would be “unconscionable” to override the withdrawal agreement, adding there is “no doubt” the “unpalatable” implications of the treaty were known to the Prime Minister when he signed it.
The Brexiteer warned he would not back the Internal Market Bill unless ministers dispel the impression they plan to “permanently and unilaterally” rewrite an international agreement, with tariffs and customs procedures on certain goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain were part of the deal.
Mr Cox added 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”.
He wrote in The Times: “When the Queen’s minister gives his word, on her behalf, it should be axiomatic that he will keep it, even if the consequences are unpalatable.
“No British minister should solemnly undertake to observe treaty obligations with his fingers crossed behind his back.”
The former attorney general continued: “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.”
David Cameron, who was Prime Minister at the time of the EU referendum vote in June 2016, expressed “misgivings” about overriding the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
He said: “Passing an Act of Parliament and then going on to break an international treaty obligation is the very, very last thing you should contemplate.
“It should be an absolute final resort.
“So, I do have misgivings about what’s being proposed.
“But, I would just make this point.
“So far what’s happened is the Government has proposed a law that it might pass, or might not pass, or might use, or might not use depending on whether certain circumstances do, or do not appear.”
Mr Cameron added: “And, of course, the bigger picture here is that we are in a vital negotiation with the European Union to get a deal and I think we have to keep that context, that big prize in mind.”