Boris Johnson faces Conservative backbench rebellion over new law

The Bill will break international law by overriding parts of Brexit withdrawal deal

Boris Johnson faces a Conservative backbench rebellion on Monday when MPs debate a Bill his government admits will break international law by overriding parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. A number of senior Conservatives, including chairs of parliamentary committees, have said they will not support the Bill and some are backing an amendment that would require a new parliamentary vote before the measures breaching the withdrawal agreement come into effect.

Justice secretary Robert Buckland defended the Bill on Sunday but said he would resign if the government broke the law in a way he found unacceptable.

“If we get to this stage there will be a conflict between our domestic law position and our international law position, it is the duty of the British government to seek to resolve that conflict as soon as possible. That is what I would expect the government to do. That is what we will do. We’ve been in this position before when we’ve had incompatibilities with international law obligations, we’ve always sought to resolve them, and we have resolved them. And this will be absolutely no exception,” he told the BBC.

“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.”


The UK Internal Market Bill is one of two pieces of legislation which would breach the withdrawal agreement by giving British ministers the power to decide unilaterally how parts of the Northern Ireland protocol should be implemented.

They could determine which goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland are deemed at risk of proceeding into the EU’s single market and what documentation must accompany goods moving in the opposite direction. Britain would also be able to unilaterally limit the scope and reach of the protocol’s measures governing state aid to business.

Mr Johnson on Saturday accused the EU of threatening to “blockade” Northern Ireland by stopping the transport of food products from Britain. This could happen if the EU does not list Britain as an approved third country to export food into the EU.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier dismissed the claim that the protocol threatens the integrity of the UK, adding that the EU is not refusing to list Britain as a third country for food exports. He said that for any country to be listed, the EU must know what its rules are, including for imports.

His British counterpart David Frost responded in a series of tweets, saying Britain needed new powers to ensure that the protocol protects the balance of the Belfast Agreement. He said the EU knew the details of Britain's food standards because they were the same as the EU's and would not change overnight when the transition period ends on December 31st.

“I am afraid it has also been said to us explicitly in these talks that if we are not listed we will not be able to move food to Northern Ireland. The EU’s position is that listing is needed for Great Britain only, not Northern Ireland. So if Great Britain were not listed, it would be automatically illegal for Northern Ireland to import food products from Great Britain. I hope the EU will yet think better of this. It obviously makes it no easier to negotiate a good free trade agreement and the solid future relationship which we all want,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times