The Government is facing growing backlash from Conservative backbenchers as it brings forward controversial new legislation that ministers have admitted breaks international law.
Several MPs, including former attorney general Geoffrey Cox, have said they will not back the Internal Markets Bill, with one former minister telling the Telegraph there would be a “massive, massive row” over the legislation, despite Number 10 insisting it is an “insurance policy” to prevent the EU from making it illegal for food to be exported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, told Radio 4’s Today programme that the Government needed “a solution to that conundrum”.
He explained: “If we get to a situation where we are not recognised as a third country and it therefore becomes illegal to move food to Northern Ireland, what is the UK Prime Minister supposed to do?
“I think this is the solution that needs to be offered if we’re going to have resolution to that – Northern Ireland is unequivocally part of the UK customs territory, so the fact that is now being brought into question is a very difficult thing for us to face, very concerning but no doubt that will all be thrashed out this afternoon.”
This afternoon’s second reading of the bill, which is due to kick off at 4pm, will set the stage for a more significant showdown next week when an amendment put forward by veteran MP and serial rebel Bob Neill comes to a vote.
Rule of law should not be broken for ‘mess of pottage’, says senior Tory MP
Northern Ireland Committee chair Simon Hoare has said the rule of law should not be broken “for a mess of pottage”, in a further sign of the growing Tory rebellion.
Following Geoffrey Cox’s intervention overnight, the North Dorset MP said: “I remember hearing lots of colleagues saying at the time: ‘if Geoffrey says it’s no dice; I’m not playing’. Lots saying ‘if Cox unhappy I’m not going for it’. As a committed Brexiter he should remain an important lightening rod.”
Government must clarify plans for controversial law-breaking Brexit bill
Geoffrey Cox said the Government had not done enough to explain how it would use the powers set out in the Internal Market Bill.
Speaking to Times Radio, the Former attorney general said: “I think the fundamental problem at the moment is that it is not clear the circumstances in which the powers taken by the Bill would be used.
“The Government thus far has not given any definition to those circumstances.
“If the powers are to be used simply to nullify the foreseeable and ordinary consequences of an agreement we signed, that to me is simply to go back on an agreement that both the British Government signed solemnly and Parliament itself ratified in February.
“I think it is wrong that the British Government or our Parliament should renege on an agreement on which we gave our solemn word.”
Geoffrey Cox suggests he could be persuaded on controversial Brexit bill
Geoffrey Cox has intimated that he could still back the controversial bill, despite having written an article saying it was “unconscionable” and “would amount to nothing more or less than the unilateral abrogation of the treaty obligations to which we pledged our word less than 12 months ago.”
The former attorney general told Times Radio that if the Government was able to “dispel the impression, a very unfortunate impression” that Brandon Lewis had given last week – namely that the Internal Markets Bill would be use expressly to “violate a treaty into which we solemnly entered just a few months ago” – then he might be persuaded.
If the powers are only to be used in “these specific circumstances” then he might be minded to back it, the MP said, although noted that “I haven’t had those assurances” yet.
“I will be listening keenly today,” he added.
Minister rubbishes ‘poetic’ intervention from Geoffrey Cox
Arguments against the UK Internal Market Bill do not “solve the problem we’re faced with”, the policing minister has said.
Asked what he thought of former attorney general Geoffrey Cox’s intervention at the weekend, Kit Malthouse told the BBC: “Well it’s very poetic but it doesn’t, for me personally, solve the problem that we’re faced with, which is we’re in a situation where if this third-country status is withheld from the UK.
“It means that food exports from GB to Northern Ireland could in theory become illegal in the future and in those circumstances I’m not quite sure what a British Prime Minister is supposed to do.
“What we’ve done is to say transparently that this is a situation which we think may occur, certainly that’s what’s being intimated from the EU, that it’s a problem we have to solve so here’s a bill that solves it.”
He added: “In the end those people that oppose this bill have to tell us what the resolution is.”
Former minister Theresa Villiers to support controversial new Brexit bill
Former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers has said she won’t be rebelling on the controversial Internal Market Bill, despite ministers admitting it breaks international law.
Number 10 insists it is a vital “insurance policy” to ensure that Britain can continue to export food to Northern Ireland after Brexit.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “I will be supporting the Bill because I think it is sensible to have a fall-back position if the EU continues to refuse to negotiate reasonably on arrangements for transporting goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
Ms Villiers said the Government was “certainly taking a tough approach” to the negotiations with Brussels by tabling the legislation but added that the measures in the Bill would only be required if no agreement was forthcoming on how the Northern Ireland Protocol could be “exercised”.
She added that a “day-to-day part of the international law system” involved discrepancies over its domestic application, citing David Cameron’s refusal to introduce votes for prisoners despite a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.
Former attorney general accuses Boris Johnson of ‘unconscionable’ damage to UK reputation
Overnight, former attorney general Geoffrey Cox has said he will not back the Government’s attempts to override the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement when it comes before the Commons.
He accused Boris Johnson of doing “unconscionable” damage to Britain’s international reputation.
Mr Cox — whose legal advice killed Theresa May’s Brexit deal last year – said there was “no doubt” the “unpalatable” implications of the Withdrawal Agreement were known when the PM signed it.
“We, the British government and Parliament, have given our word. Our honour, our credibility, our self-respect and our future influence in the world all rest upon us keeping that word,” Mr Cox wrote in The Times.
He said that there were lawful ways for the government to deal with its concerns, such as using a procedure set out in the agreement to take “temporary and proportional measures” to protect the UK’s interests if approved by the Commons.
“What ministers should not do, however provoked or frustrated they may feel, is to take or use powers permanently and unilaterally to rewrite portions of an agreement into which this country freely entered just a few months ago,” he said.
Government accused of ‘legislative hooliganism’ over controversial new Brexit bill
Labour shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said the Government’s plan to use domestic law to override the Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels was an act of “legislative hooliganism”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the former Labour leader said: “The fundamental thing is – I think we should take a step back – this is not normal.
“I’ve come on your programme many times to discuss many issues – I have never been on your programme discussing a British government coming along and seeking to break international law, an agreement it signed.
“It is honestly a sad day and that’s why I think you hear people across the political spectrum condemning the Government.”
He added: “Of the most sensitive issues around Northern Ireland, at the most sensitive stage of the Brexit negotiations – I mean it’s sort of legislative hooliganism that the Government is engaged in and it will be self-defeating, I fear.”
Justice Secretary threatens to quit over Brexit divorce deal
The Justice Secretary has said he will resign over any “unacceptable” breach of international law as Boris Johnson tried to quell a Tory rebellion over his plans to amend the Brexit divorce deal.
Robert Buckland said he did not believe the Government would “get to that point” where it had to break the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU last year, but added that, if it did, “I know in my mind what I have to do”.
As Parliament prepares to debate legislation that would reverse aspects of the EU divorce deal this week, Mr Johnson is facing the growing threat of an attempt to defeat it from his own MPs.
The Telegraph has learned that Government whips have begun talks with rebels about a possible compromise that could give Parliament more say in the matter.
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