The UK justice secretary, Robert Buckland, has said he would resign if the law was “broken in a way that I find unacceptable”, as Downing Street continued to come under pressure over planned legislation that would override parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

In a remarkable scene in the Commons last week that astonished Conservative backbenchers, the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, admitted the internal market bill “does break international law in a very specific and limited way”.

The publication of the bill on Wednesday, under which key parts of the withdrawal agreement agreed last year with the EU would be negated, has infuriated Brussels and prompted a Tory rebellion. With the bill’s second reading on Monday before a parliament vote, Labour has confirmed it will vote against it in its current form.

Buckland, who as justice secretary has taken an oath to uphold the rule of law, faced repeated pressure on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday to say whether he would consider resigning over the bill. The legislation was a “break the glass in emergency provision if we need it”, Buckland claimed.

The internal market bill aims to enforce compatible rules and regulations regarding trade in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Some rules, for example around food safety or air quality,  which were formerly set by EU agreements, will now be controlled by the devolved administrations or Westminster. The internal market bill insists that devolved administrations  have to accept goods and services from all the nations of the UK – even if their standards differ locally.

This, says the government, is in part to ensure international traders have access to the UK as a whole, confident that standards and rules are consistent.

The Scottish government has criticised it as a Westminster “power grab”, and the Welsh government has expressed fears it will lead to a race to the bottom. If one of the countries that makes up the UK lowers their standards, over the importation of chlorinated chicken, for example, the other three nations will have to accept chlorinated chicken too.

It has become even more controversial because one of its main aims is to empower ministers to pass regulations even if they are contrary to the withdrawal agreement reached with the EU under the Northern Ireland protocol.

The text does not disguise its intention, stating that powers contained in the bill “have effect notwithstanding any relevant international or domestic law with which they may be incompatible or inconsistent”.

Martin Belam and Owen Bowcott

Pressed on whether he would walk away from the government, he said: “If I see the rule of law being broken in a way that I find unacceptable then, of course, I will go. We are not at that stage.”

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Asked again directly if he would resign if the government breaks international law, Buckland said: “What I will be seeking to do, and indeed the government will be seeking to do, is to resolve that conflict as soon as possible.”

He added: “I don’t believe we’re going to get to that stage. I know in my mind what I have to do. But the government collectively here also has a responsibility, we’ve got to resolve any conflict, that’s what we will do.”

Pressed a further time if he would resign at the point the government actually breaks international law, he said: “I don’t believe we’re going to get to that point and that is why I shall be working very hard to ensure we don’t.”

There is growing discontent among Conservative backbenchers over the bill, with senior Tory MP Sir Bob Neill tabling an amendment to impose a parliamentary lock on any changes to the withdrawal agreement.

On Friday, Boris Johnson sought to quell signs of a rebellion during a Zoom call with his MPs, telling them that the clauses in the bill were necessary to prevent a foreign power from “breaking up our country”.

However, on Sunday, the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, dismissed the prime minister’s assertion that the Northern Ireland protocol could be used to break up the UK.

“Protocol on IE/NI is not a threat to the integrity of the UK. We agreed this delicate compromise with Boris Johnson and his government in order to protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland. We could not have been clearer about the consequences of Brexit,” he tweeted.

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Barnier also denied the EU iswas refusing to list the UK as a third country for food imports. “To be listed, we need to know in full what a country’s rules are, including for imports. The same objective process applies to all listed countries,” he said.

Speaking on the Marr programme, Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister, Rachel Reeves, confirmed her party would vote against the internal market bill in its current form as well as urging both the UK and the EU “to stop the posturing and get back to the negotiating table and take this seriously”.

She said: “So legislation is needed, a bill is needed, but we would like to see a greater level of collaboration between the nations of the United Kingdom rather than a power grab by Westminster.”

Asked if Labour would support Neill’s amendment, she said her party “would need to look at the detail of that amendment” and that it would be tabling amendments of its own as well.

After 47 years and 30 days it was all over. As the clock struck 11pm on 31 January 2020, the UK was officially divorced from the EU and began trying to carve out a new global role as a sovereign nation. It was a union that got off to a tricky start and continued to be marked by the UK’s sometimes conflicted relationship with its neighbours.

Brefusal

The French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoes Britain’s entry to EEC, accusing the UK of a “deep-seated hostility” towards the European project.

Brentry

With Sir Edward Heath having signed the accession treaty the previous year, the UK enters the EEC in an official ceremony complete with a torch-lit rally, dickie-bowed officials and a procession of political leaders, including former prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home.

Referendum

The UK decides to stay in the common market after 67% voted “yes”. Margaret Thatcher, later to be leader of the Conservative party, campaigned to remain.

‘Give us our money back’

Margaret Thatcher negotiated what became known as the UK rebate with other EU members after the “iron lady” marched into the former French royal palace at Fontainebleau to demand “our own money back” claiming for every £2 contributed we get only £1 back” despite being one of the “three poorer” members of the community.

It was a move that sowed the seeds of Tory Euroscepticism that was to later cause the Brexit schism in the party. 

The Bruges speech

Thatcher served notice on the EU community in a defining moment in EU politics in which she questioned the expansionist plans of Jacques Delors, who had remarked that 80% of all decisions on economic and social policy would be made by the European Community within 10 years with a European government in “embryo”. That was a bridge too far for Thatcher.

The cold war ends

Collapse of Berlin wall and fall of communism in eastern Europe, which would later lead to expansion of EU.

‘No, no, no’

Divisions between the UK and the EU deepened with Thatcher telling the Commons in an infamous speech it was ‘no, no, no’ to what she saw as Delors’ continued power grab. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper ratchets up its opposition to Europe with a two-fingered “Up yours Delors” front page.

Black Wednesday

A collapse in the pound forced prime minister John Major and the then chancellor Norman Lamont to pull the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

The single market

On 1 January, customs checks and duties were removed across the bloc. Thatcher hailed the vision of “a single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people”.

Maastricht treaty

Tory rebels vote against the treaty that paved the way for the creation of the European Union. John Major won the vote the following day in a pyrrhic victory. 

Repairing the relationship

Tony Blair patches up the relationship. Signs up to social charter and workers’ rights.

Ukip

Nigel Farage elected an MEP and immediately goes on the offensive in Brussels. “Our interests are best served by not being a member of this club,” he said in his maiden speech. “The level playing field is about as level as the decks of the Titanic after it hit an iceberg.”

The euro

Chancellor Gordon Brown decides the UK will not join the euro.

EU enlarges to to include eight countries of the former eastern bloc including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

EU expands again, allowing Romania and Bulgaria into the club.

Migrant crisis

Anti-immigration hysteria seems to take hold with references to “cockroches” by Katie Hopkins in the Sun and tabloid headlines such as “How many more can we take?” and “Calais crisis: send in the dogs”.

David Cameron returns from Brussels with an EU reform package – but it isn’t enough to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own party

Brexit referendum

The UK votes to leave the European Union, triggering David Cameron’s resignation and paving the way for Theresa May to become prime minister

Britain leaves the EU

After years of parliamentary impasse during Theresa May’s attempt to get a deal agreed, the UK leaves the EU.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, Simon Coveney, told the show that a post-Brexit trade agreement was still possible and that a no-deal would represent a failure of politics.

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“Both the British and Irish economies are going to be damaged significantly and that will be a significant failure of politics not anything else,” he warned.

He also dismissed the idea that Brussels would block food deliveries to Northern Ireland, adding: “The British government is behaving in an extraordinary way and British people need to know that, because outside of Britain the reputation of the UK as a trusted negotiating partner is being damaged.”



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