David Cameron joins in criticism of Johnson’s Brexit move
Former PM voices opposition to law-breaking Bill as Geoffrey Cox says reputation at risk
David Cameron has joined all the other former living UK prime ministers in criticising Boris Johnson’s internal market Bill, that ministers admit will break international law, as the proposed legislation begins its passage through parliament.
Mr Cameron joins high-profile figures, including ex-prime ministers Theresa May, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and John Major – and former Conservative attorney-general Geoffrey Cox – in voicing opposition to the government’s latest move in the Brexit negotiations.
The Bill includes clauses that could override the Northern Ireland protocol, which was written into the Brexit withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
In an interview with Sky News on Monday, Mr Cameron said he had “misgivings about what is being proposed”.
“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,” he said.
Writing in he Times on Monday, Mr Cox argued that the Bill risked the country’s “standing and reputation”.
“The withdrawal agreement and its attendant Northern Ireland protocol represent treaty obligations of this country to which the government, in which I had the honour to serve as attorney-general, gave its solemn and binding word,” he said.
“It is, therefore, obliged to accept all the ordinary and foreseeable consequences of the implementation of that agreement.”
He added that ministers should “not take or use powers permanently and unilaterally to rewrite portions of an agreement into which this country freely entered just a few months ago”.
The legislation will also give ministers powers to modify regulations relating to state aid and to the movement of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland, if a UK-EU trade deal is not ratified by January 1st.
In a joint piece in the Sunday Times, former prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major argued that the Bill put the Belfast Agreement at “risk” and described it as “shameful”.
“This way of negotiating, with reason cast aside in pursuit of ideology and cavalier bombast posing as serious diplomacy, is irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice,” they wrote.
“It raises questions that go far beyond the impact on Ireland, the peace process and negotiations for a trade deal - crucial though they are. It questions the very integrity of our nation.”
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis admitted in the House of Commons last week that the Bill “does break international law in a specific and limited way”.
Over the weekend, justice secretary Robert Buckland defended the Bill, arguing that it was merely an “insurance policy”, stating: “I believe with our determination to seek an agreement, we will get a position where we don’t need to invoke these provisions. This is all about insurance planning, if you like, a break-the-glass-in-an-emergency provision.”
The Bill is expected to meet fierce opposition in the Commons, with at least 20 Tory MPs expected to coalesce around an amendment by Bob Neill, chair of the justice select committee, next week.
It will receive its so-called second reading on Monday, with a single vote that the government is expected to win easily, although some Tory rebels are expected to abstain.
Later this week, the House will vote on amendments around the UK internal market, with the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru expected to oppose “mutual recognition” principles that could stop Scotland and Wales preventing the sale of products, even if they cannot be produced in those countries. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020