The Government’s UK Internal Market Bill has its second reading today.
I believe that the Government’s proposals are unacceptable and would damage our country’s international reputation and put the integrity of the Union at risk. They are a sign of the Government’s extreme incompetence and yet another example of the Prime Minister deliberately misleading the British public.
The proposals are also a completely unnecessary distraction at a time when the Government should be focused on stopping the spread of coronavirus.
The Internal Market Bill sets out the Government’s plans for trade in the UK after the Brexit transition period ends, at which point powers exercised at EU level will be repatriated to the UK. In other areas, where EU law intersects with that of the devolved institutions, powers currently exercised by EU institutions will transfer to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, the UK and devolved governments have agreed that in some areas, new UK-wide ‘common frameworks’ will be needed to ensure consistency or coordination across certain policies.
This Bill is the Government’s attempt to set out how this will continue after the transition period. The House of Commons Library has explained the Bill here. Though many aspects of the Bill are flawed, the principle relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol is particularly worrying.
The Bill would prevent any Government from introducing new controls on goods moving directly from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and – a move without precedent – would give UK Ministers powers to set aside the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement (an international treaty lodged with the United Nations) in respect of state aid and the requirement for export licenses for Northern Irish goods.
This means that the legislation knowingly and openly breaks international law – a fact admitted by the Government.
Implications of the Bill
Britain’s international reputation is built upon our values and the fact that we have long stood up for the rule of law. Now Boris Johnson wants to introduce a Bill which would disregard the Withdrawal Agreement – a treaty sealed in international law.
This is a staggering act of incompetence. The Prime Minister personally negotiated and signed the Withdrawal Agreement, but now he is saying it contains serious problems that could break up our country. He should have thought about that when he was selling it as an ‘oven-ready deal’. Either he was lying to us then, or he is lying to us now.
He has since said there was a ‘misunderstanding’ about the Withdrawal Agreement. That is also untrue. Its potential issues around state aid and customs declarations have been explicitly flagged to the Government on numerous occasions.
This is about more than Brexit, it is about Britain’s standing in the world. We are supposed to be a trustworthy nation that stands by its commitments. That is the basis on which other countries are willing to work collaboratively with us, including by striking trade deals. Breaking international law with this Bill will damage our reputation and impinge on the Government’s own trade deal negotiations.
The legislation also risks the integrity of the Union by undermining the devolution settlement. The Government has chosen to surpass the process of agreeing common frameworks on key devolved matters – like agriculture and food standards.
A truly unionist government would only develop legislation with the informed consent of devolved administrations. Instead, leaders from all the UK’s devolved nations have expressed concern about the UK Government’s approach.
We are in the middle of a global pandemic and an economic crisis. The Government should be putting all its efforts into stopping the spread of coronavirus and offsetting its economic impacts. Instead it wants to reopen old Brexit wounds and put us at greater risk of crashing out of the EU without a deal – the last thing this country needs.
Thank you to all constituents who have written to me about this. I can assure you that I share your concerns and Labour will do everything we can to prevent the Government from proceeding with this reckless action.