The UK government on Wednesday published an internal market bill that breaks international law and was widely condemned, not least by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said it undermined trust in the British government.
London has publicly admitted that the bill is set to break international law. The bill would unilaterally override key aspects of the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the EU, specifically the Northern Ireland protocol.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told parliament yesterday: “Yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way. We’re taking the powers of this to apply the EU law concept of direct effect… in a certain very tightly defined circumstance.”
“Certain provisions to have effect notwithstanding inconsistency or incompatibility with international or other domestic law,” the draft bill said.
Sections of any future Brexit deal that contradict the bill “cease to be recognized and available in domestic law,” it added.
The bill includes a section with sweeping exemptions, saying it overrides “any other legislation, convention or rule of international or domestic law whatsoever, including any order, judgement or decision of the Europe Court or of any other court or tribunal.”
Von der Leyen tweeted today: “Very concerned about announcements from the British government on its intentions to breach the Withdrawal Agreement. This would break international law and undermines trust. Pacta sunt servanda [agreements must be kept]= the foundation of prosperous future relations.”
Trade talks at risk
The move has also caused concern in the US.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, an Irish-American, is a vocal backer of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, of which the US is a guarantor.
Antony Blinken, Biden’s chief foreign policy adviser, tweeted last night: “Joe Biden is committed to preserving the hard-earned peace & stability in Northern Ireland. As the UK and EU work out their relationship, any arrangements must protect the Good Friday Agreement and prevent the return of a hard border.”
The UK’s latest move thus threatens trade negotiations with both the EU and US for post-Brexit trade ties.
The internal market bill was also condemned by devolved governments in both Wales and Scotland.
Jeremy Miles, the Welsh counsel general and minister for European transition, said: “Let me be clear – the UK government plans to sacrifice the future of the union by stealing powers from devolved administrations.”
“This bill is an attack on democracy,” he said.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The internal market bill that the UK government will publish today is a full frontal assault on devolution.”
“This is a bill that, by the government’s own admission, breaks international law. This UK gov is the most reckless (& to make it worse, incompetently so) and unprincipled in my lifetime,” she added.
The bill was also condemned by backbenchers from the ruling Conservative party.
The Conservative chairs of the justice, foreign, and defense select committees all condemned the government’s admission it will break international law.
Former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May said in parliament: “How can the government reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreement itself.”