Boris Johnson eviscerated by a ghost of Labour’s past

Analysis: Ed Miliband delivers parliamentary tour de force in opposing PM’s Internal Market Bill

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband has excoriated Boris Johnson in the House of Commons, telling the UK prime minister that his Brexit plan is "a mess" and "a failure." Video: UK Parliament TV

 

It is unusual for a prime minister to open a debate on the second reading of a bill in the House of Commons and Boris Johnson’s last-minute decision to do so for the UK Internal Market Bill raised eyebrows around Westminster. Downing Street denied that Johnson chose to step in for business secretary Alok Sharma after Keir Starmer said he was self-isolating because a family member was showing coronavirus symptoms.

If he hoped to avoid one of the Labour leader’s famously forensic goings over, the prime minister miscalculated badly because he was instead eviscerated by a parliamentary tour de force from Ed Miliband, a figure viewed on the Tory benches as a ghost of Labour past.

Johnson’s opening speech lurched between bombast and emollience, bigging up the threat from the European Union to British sovereignty while he played down his own to break international law. The bill’s breaches of the Brexit withdrawal agreement were “reserve powers” which the British government hoped it would never have to use.

“I understand how some people will feel unease over the use of these powers. And I share that sentiment myself and I have absolutely no desire to use these measures. They are an insurance policy and if we reach agreement with our European friends – which I still believe is possible – they will never be invoked,” he said.

Miliband ran through the “top five” excuses the government advanced over the past week for ripping up a deal it signed less than a year ago, pausing over the prime minister’s assertion that the EU was threatening to blockade British food products from entering Northern Ireland.

“The bill does precisely nothing to address the transport of food from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, it is about exit declarations NI-GB and the narrow definition of state aid relating to Northern Ireland. It’s a completely bogus argument,” he said.

Miliband said Johnson had promised to unite the country and had succeeded in uniting five former prime ministers against his plan. And he skilfully turned the argument into a prosecution of Labour’s central case against the prime minister, that he is incompetent as well as untrustworthy.

“He can’t blame [Theresa May]. He can’t blame John Major. He can’t blame the judges. He can’t blame the civil servants. He can’t sack the cabinet secretary again. There is only one person responsible for this. Him. This is his deal. His mess. His failure. For the first time in his life it’s time to take responsibility. It’s time to fess up. Either he wasn’t straight with the country about the deal or he didn’t understand it. A competent government would never have entered into a binding agreement with provisions it could not live with,” he said.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.