A government minister has claimed the Internal Market Bill doesn’t break international law, despite the fact that his colleagues have said it does.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly defended the legality of the bill, designed to enable goods and services to flow freely across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – but admitted it could mean divergence from elements in the withdrawal agreement.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning, Mr Cleverly refuted presenter Naga Munchetty’s assertion that the bill breaks international law, saying: “No it doesn’t. You’re repeating something that’s wrong.
“What the Internal Market Bill does is it protects the integrity of the United Kingdom […] That may mean that we have to diverge from some of the elements in the withdrawal agreement.”
Despite dissent from some prominent Conservatives, MPs voted to move the law onto its next stage by 340 to 263 earlier this week.
Boris Johnson said the legislation was necessary to prevent the EU taking an “extreme and unreasonable” interpretation of the provisions in the withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland.
But some senior Conservatives, as well as all five living former prime ministers, raised concern after ministers admitted that the bill breached international law.
Lawyers have also raised concern. The Law Society, which represents 200,000 solicitors in England and Wales, warned last month the UK Internal Market Bill would damage Britain’s global standing and place the rule of law “under attack” in the country after MPs voted for the bill.
It comes after the EU sent formal notice to the UK government as a first step in legal proceedings on the Withdrawal Agreement.
In an explosive admission from the Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis last month, he said the legislation flouted international law in a “very specific and limited way” – provoking outrage from EU officials.
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