Internal Market Bill: Boris Johnson’s controversial bill passes amid Tory tension
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On Monday, David Cameron joined four other former Prime Ministers in denouncing a new bill which would override the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
Despite being called a “critical piece of legislation for the UK” by No. 10, previous Prime Ministers Gordon Brown, Sir John Major, Theresa May and Tony Blair have all criticised the bill, with Cameron saying that he had “misgivings” and that breaking an international treaty should be the “final resort”.
However, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the bill delivered a "vital legal safety net" so the government can "take the necessary steps to ensure the integrity of UK's internal market" - steps it hoped never to have to use.
The bill, which was debated at its second reading at 16:30 Monday, passed by a vote of 340 to 263 – a majority of 77, which took place around 22:00.
The bill was expected to pass, but there was a focus on by how much, as several Tory backbench members rebelled against the whip after it was revealed that it “does break international law” according to Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis.
Former chancellor Sajid Javid and former attorney general Geoffrey Cox were among those who made clear they would not support the Bill in its current form.
Mr Cox accused the Prime Minister of doing “unconscionable damage” to Britain’s international reputation. Mr Cox backed Brexit as the government’s top legal adviser when the withdrawal agreement was drawn up.
During the debate on Monday, Johnson justified the bill by stating that “the EU has suggested that it is willing to go to extreme and unreasonable lengths - using the Northern Ireland protocol in a way that goes well beyond common sense.”
He insisted the bill was only needed if no deal was reached with the EU, claiming that it was an “insurance policy” and that he had “absolutely no desire” to use the measures.
The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, was self-isolating due to Coronavirus. Shadow Business Secretary and former Labour leader Ed Miliband represented the party in his absence.
Mr Milliband claimed that the bill did “precisely nothing” to address the transport of food between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Instead, he argued that the bill was about overriding “exit declarations, Northern Ireland to GB” and “the definition of State Aid relating to Northern Ireland.”
Things heated up when Mr Miliband attempted to give way to the Prime Minister to explain which clause “protects the threat that he says he’s worried about: GB to Northern Ireland exports.” Johnson refused to engage.
Milliband went on to describe the situation as Johnson’s “mess, his failure.”
SNP Minister Ian Blackford accused the Conservative Party of going “way beyond the pale”, he claimed that their “agenda was clear” as an attack on devolution.
Sir Robert Neill was among the Tory rebels, he claimed that he “could not support the bill” in its current state.
Other members of the Conservatives backed the bill, with Andrea Jenkyns calling it a “reasonable and essential step for our government to take in light of the EU’s unreasonable position.”
The bill is set to face greater scrutiny from the House of Commons over this week, before moving on to the House of Lords, where it is expected to face further difficulties.
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Student at Lancaster University, studying English Literature and Creative Writing. Interests include current affairs, literature, news and politics, with a focus on investigative journalism.