Brexit: MPs vote to approve Internal Market Bill, despite admission that bill defies international law

MPs passed the contentious legislation at third reading by 340 to 256 votes

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 30 September 2020 00:36 BST
MPs vote to approve Internal Market Bill, despite admission that bill defies international law

Boris Johnson’s legislation to unilaterally override the EU withdrawal agreement has cleared the Commons, despite a minister’s admission it flouts international law.

After a series of divisions on Tuesday evening, MPs passed the contentious Internal Market Bill at third reading by 340 to 256 votes – a government majority of 84.

Despite concerns raised by Conservatives, voting lists showed no MP from the party voted against the legislation while a vote was not registered for the former prime minister Theresa May, suggesting she abstained.

It follows the explosive admission from the Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis earlier this month that the legislation flouts international law in a “very specific and limited way” – provoking outrage from EU officials.

As the ninth round of negotiations between London and Brussels resumed on Tuesday, Germany’s Europe minister Michael Roth warned the legislation had cast a “dark shadow” over UK-EU trade talks.

The bill has also been criticised by every living former prime minister, including Ms May, who said last week she cannot support the legislation and argued the Internal Market Bill would cause “untold damage” to the UK’s reputation.

“I cannot emphasise how concerned I am that a Conservative government is willing to go back on its work, to break an international agreement signed in good faith and to break international law," she told MPs.

Ministers prevented a significant rebellion on the Conservative benches, however, by agreeing to a concession that gives MPs a vote before the implementation of measures which would unilaterally waive tariffs, customs paperwork and state aid controls Mr Johnson signed up to in the withdrawal agreement.

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday before the passage of the bill, which will now progress to the House of Lords, the business secretary Alok Sharma described the legislation as a “legal safety net” in the event of Brexit trade talks collapsing with the EU.

He added: “The reason we have taken powers to ensure that in the event we do not reach an agreement with our EU friends on how to implement the [Northern Ireland Protcol] is so we’re able to deliver on our promises in our manifesto and the command paper.”

But Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, said the “indefensible” bill was dreamt up by “legislative hooligans in Downing Street”.

“On international law, nobody should be in any doubt the damage already done by this bill", he said. “This law-breaking bill has been noticed around the world."

Mr Miliband highlighted reservations from US president Donald Trump's Northern Ireland envoy, Mick Mulvaney, adding: "When the Trump administration starts expressing concern about your adherence to international agreements and the rule of law, you know you are in trouble. That is how bad this bill is."

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