Brexit: ‘Vast majority’ of peers will block Boris Johnson’s protocol bill, says Tory grandee

Ken Clarke says legislation set to be revealed on Monday will be ‘seriously challenged’

Reporter asks Johnson why he signed ‘bad’ Northern Ireland Protocol

The “vast majority” of peers will back attempts to block a bill by Boris Johnson’s government aimed at overriding parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to Conservative party grandee Ken Clarke.

The controversial legislation – designed to take unilateral action to stop checks on goods agreed with the EU as part of the Brexit deal – will be published in the Commons on Monday.

But the former Tory chancellor said the radical plan will be “seriously challenged” in the upper chamber. “I expect to find a very large majority of the House of Lords will hold it up for a considerable time,” Lord Clarke told the Daily Mail.

“I personally, I am afraid, usually vote against the government when they are trying to break the rule of law,” he said – adding that Britain should abide by a “rules-based international order in which countries reach agreements and then stick to them”.

The Tory peer added: “I do not think the government should be allowed to negotiate a treaty, tell the public that it is a fine treaty, get it ratified by parliament, and then almost immediately start trying to break it.”

Fellow Tory grandee Lord Michael Howard – the former party leader who has previously voted against the government on Brexit legislation – also said the bill would “undoubtedly encounter a rocky road” in the Lords.

Senior Labour and Liberal Democrats peers have also vowed to oppose the move, arguing that it violates an international treaty. Some observers predict that the Lords could help dilute the bill and delay it for up to a year.

In November 2020, peers handed the government a significant defeat over Internal Market Bill – its previous bid to override parts of the withdrawal agreement – voted 433 to 165 to remove key clauses.

Meanwhile, Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin warned the government it could face a rebellion of Brexiteer backbenchers in the Commons if the legislation if not offer the “serious prospect” of the DUP going back into government at Stormont.

Mr Johnson and foreign secretary Liz Truss are under pressure by Tory MPs in the European Research Group (ERG) MPs and the DUP to make the bill as tough as possible in taking control of the movement of goods between GB and NI.

The PM and Ms Truss met the ERG’s Bill Cash earlier this week to discuss their legislative plans – said to involve a “dual regulatory regime” allowing goods produced in GB to move into NI, and vice versa, without checks.

Mujtaba Rahman, analyst at the Eurasia Group consultancy, said the EU would “not overreact” to the bill next week. He said Brussels chiefs are aware it could take six to 12 months for the legislation to move through parliament.

But the Brexit expert told The Independent that he expected the European Commission to start “preparatory work” on possible retaliatory moves – including tariffs – as a bill moves through parliament.

It comes as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer warned that the PM was taking a “wrecking ball” to relations with the Republic of Ireland and the EU.

The Labour leader met some of Northern Ireland’s political leaders on Friday amid the deepening row over post-Brexit trading arrangements for the region and the impasse at Stormont.

Starmer held meetings with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson – refusing the re-join the power-sharing executive until the protocol checks are ditched – and UUP head Doug Beattie in London earlier this week.

No 10 confirmed on Friday that the legislation led by Ms Truss – and a summary of the government’s legal position – will be released on Monday. But the full legal advice given to ministers will not be disclosed.

Downing Street has rejected the claim that Sir James Eadie, the government’s independent barrister on legal issues, had not been asked to give a view on whether the bill would breach international law.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly refused to directly say whether he was consulted on the plans – but insisted that the government remained “confident” that its proposals are legal.

Meanwhile, Tory peer David Frost, the former Brexit negotiator, has said he is “thinking” about standing as an MP. “We’ll see if the opportunity arises and it might and it might not, we’ll see … I am thinking about it.”

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