Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill would preserve jobs and peace in Northern Ireland, but his government concedes it lays down unilateral changes in breach of the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, AFP reported.
Britain announced draft legislation, according to a copy also seen by Reuters.
The proposals, which the government has said would break international law “in a very specific and limited way,” have contributed to concerns that Britain could leave the EU in four months with no new agreement on trade.
The prime minister was accused Wednesday of presiding over a “rogue state” as his government introduced the legislation that intentionally breaches its EU withdrawal treaty in the messy countdown to a full Brexit divorce.
Johnson defended the government’s approach after its extraordinary admission that the new bill governing post-Brexit trade in Britain and Northern Ireland breaks international law.
Asked why the British public at large should respect any laws now, the prime minister told Parliament: “We expect everybody in this country to obey the law.”
In a bad-tempered exchange with Scottish nationalist MP Ian Blackford, Johnson insisted the bill was about “protecting jobs, protecting growth, ensuring the fluidity and safety of our UK internal market.”
“My job is to uphold the integrity of the UK but also to protect the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday Agreement,” he added, calling the new bill a “legal safety net” if the EU makes an “irrational interpretation” of post-Brexit arrangements.
The government maintains its new UK Internal Market Bill is needed to smooth trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and help power a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, once a post-Brexit transition ends this year.
On Wednesday, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said that Britain is aware that a lack of respect for its Withdrawal Agreement would have consequences and said that if negotiations are to continue the bloc must have trust in London.
“For us this is of course a matter of principle,” he told a news conference. “The trust to continue our discussion on the implementation ... is a must.”
European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen expressed strong concern about Britain’s plans to pass the bill, noting it would destroy trust and undermine trade talks.
“Very concerned about announcements from the British government on its intentions to breach the Withdrawal Agreement. This would break international law and undermines trust. Pacta sunt servanda = the foundation of prosperous future relations,” von der Leyen said on Twitter.
Under its EU Withdrawal Agreement, Britain is meant to liaise with Brussels on any arrangements for Northern Ireland, which saw three decades of bloodshed until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and will become the UK’s only land border with the EU.