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UK: Brexit: Outcry over UK bill that violates intl law

10th Sep 2020
UK: Brexit: Outcry over UK bill that violates intl law

By Karim El-Bar


LONDON (AA): The UK government on Wednesday published an internal market bill that breaks international law and was widely condemned, not least by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said it undermined trust in the British government. The bill was also condemned by Democrats in the US and former UK prime ministers. However, the Opposition Leader Keir Starmer did not bring the issue up during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament.

London has publicly admitted that the bill is set to break international law. The bill would unilaterally override key aspects of the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, specifically the Northern Ireland protocol.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told parliament Tuesday: “Yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way. We’re taking the powers of this to apply the EU law concept of direct effect… in a certain very tightly defined circumstance.”

“Certain provisions to have effect notwithstanding inconsistency or incompatibility with international or other domestic law,” the draft bill said.

Sections of any future Brexit deal that contradict the bill “cease to be recognized and available in domestic law,” it added.

The bill includes a section with sweeping exemptions, saying it overrides “any other legislation, convention or rule of international or domestic law whatsoever, including any order, judgement or decision of the Europe Court or of any other court or tribunal.”

Von der Leyen tweeted Wednesday: “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 [agreements must be kept] = the foundation of prosperous future relations.”

European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič will travel to London on Thursday for an “extraordinary” meeting with Cabinet Minister Michael Gove of the joint committee.

However, Prime Minister’s Spokesman defended the changes. He said it was clarification of an agreement that had been rushed through in January.

“The withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol aren’t like any other treaty,” he said. “It was agreed at pace in the most challenging possible political circumstances to deliver on a clear political decision by the British people and with the clear, overriding purpose of protecting the special circumstances of Northern Ireland. It contains ambiguities and in key areas there is a lack of clarity.

“It was written on the assumption that subsequent agreements to clarify these aspects could be reached between us and the EU on the detail. And that may yet be possible and we continue to engage fully with the joint committee process. But as I said before, we cannot allow damaging default positions to kick in if we can’t agree.”

Trade talks at risk

The move has also caused concern in the US.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, an Irish-American, is a vocal backer of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, of which the US is a guarantor.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s chief foreign policy adviser, tweeted Tuesday night: “Joe Biden is committed to preserving the hard-earned peace & stability in Northern Ireland. As the UK and EU work out their relationship, any arrangements must protect the Good Friday Agreement and prevent the return of a hard border.”

And in a statement on Tuesday, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi said: “Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday agreement, including the stability brought by the invisible and frictionless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.

“The UK must respect the Northern Ireland protocol as signed with the EU to ensure the free flow of goods across the border.

“If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.”

The UK’s latest move thus threatens trade negotiations with both the EU and US for post-Brexit trade ties.

The internal market bill was also condemned by devolved governments in both Wales and Scotland.

Jeremy Miles, the Welsh Counsel General and Minister for European Transition, said: “Let me be clear – the UK government plans to sacrifice the future of the union by stealing powers from devolved administrations.”

“This bill is an attack on democracy,” he said.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The internal market bill that the UK government will publish today is a full frontal assault on devolution.”

“This is a bill that, by the government’s own admission, breaks international law. This UK gov is the most reckless (& to make it worse, incompetently so) and unprincipled in my lifetime,” she added.

The bill was also condemned by backbenchers from the ruling Conservative party.

The Conservative chairs of the justice, foreign, and defense select committees all condemned the government’s admission it will break international law.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May said in parliament: “How can the government reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreement itself.”

The former Prime Minister Sir John Major said breaking international law would come with a price that could never be recovered.

“For generations, Britain’s word solemnly given has been accepted by friend and foe. Our signature on any treaty or agreement has been sacrosanct,” he said. “Over the last century, as our military strength has dwindled, our word has retained its power. If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained.”

Additional report by The Muslim News

[Photo: Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at the Prime Minister’s Question Time in House of Commons, on 9 September 2020. Photographer: ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor]


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