May to vote against Bill permitting Britain to break international law

Bill would weaken trust in London and cut NI willingness to stay in UK, says former PM

Theresa May has told MPs she will vote against a Bill that gives British ministers the power to break international law by reneging on parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Describing the Internal Market Bill as reckless and damaging to Britain’s standing in the world, the former prime minister rejected a compromise aimed at dampening a Conservative backbench rebellion.

“I believe that the government’s willingness unilaterally to abandon an international agreement or parts of an international agreement it has signed, its willingness to renege on an agreement it has signed will lead to some questioning, as has already been made clear in an intervention, some questioning the willingness of the government to fully uphold the measures in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” she said

“That in turn will lead to some communities having less willingness to trust the UK government and that could have a consequence on the willingness of people in Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. So, far from acting to reinforce the integrity of the UK, in pursuit of trying to appear to be tough to the EU, I think the government is putting the integrity of the UK at risk.”

World stage

The government last week agreed to give MPs a vote before the clauses reneging on the withdrawal agreement are triggered but Mrs May said the Bill would still be unacceptable. She said safeguards within the withdrawal agreement made the powers unnecessary and that it would diminish Britain’s authority on the international stage.

“To the outside world, it makes no difference whether a decision to break international law is taken by a minister or by this parliament; it is still a decision to break international law. This can only weaken the UK in the eyes of the world,” she said.

"One of the great strengths we have as a country is our commitment to the rule of law, and this will have been damaged. Our reputation as a country that stands by its word will have been tarnished, and the willingness of other countries to trust the United Kingdom and its values will have been reduced. So much for global Britain."

Self-defeating ploy

Former Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley also criticised the legislation, warning it could upset the delicate political and constitutional balance in the North. But the DUP's Gavin Robinson said a commitment in the 2017 UK-EU joint report to avoid regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain had never been honoured.

Alliance MP Stephen Farry said the British government's approach was self-defeating as a negotiating ploy. "Ministers rightly outline that a range of issues are still to be resolved through the joint committee," he said.

"For that, we need to prove to the European Union that the UK can be trusted if various derogations are granted to the UK, but if we pass legislation that still contains even the merest threat of breaching the existing agreement, why would the EU be flexible and give us that trust as we will not have shown the ability to follow through with other previous agreements?"

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times