British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says his plan to unilaterally rewrite Britain's divorce deal with the European Union is an insurance policy against the bloc's unreasonable behavior, comments that came as his former attorney general joined a growing number of once-loyal lawmakers condemning the contentious move.
Johnson said Monday that a planned law designed to override portions of the Brexit withdrawal agreement was needed because the EU might go to extreme and unreasonable lengths in its treatment of former member Britain.
I have absolutely no desire to use these measures, Johnson told lawmakers as he introduced the Internal Market Bill in the House of Commons. They are an insurance policy. The U.K. formally left the bloc on Jan. 31, but existing trade rules remain in effect until the end of this year under a transition designed to provide time to negotiate a long-term trade agreement.
Johnson's Conservative government has acknowledged that the bill breaches the legally binding withdrawal treaty that Britain and the EU have both ratified. The legislation threatens to sink the already-foundering negotiations between Britain and the EU on a post-Brexit trade deal.
Ed Milliband, business spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, accused Johnson of trashing the reputation of this country and trashing the reputation of his office. With an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons, Johnson is expected to have enough votes to push his legislation through Parliament but there is wide unease within the Conservative Party about the law-breaking move.
Geoffrey Cox, who was the government's top legal officer when Johnson negotiated the Brexit withdrawal agreement less than a year ago, said reneging on the deal would be an unconscionable breach of international law.
Cox, previously a strong supporter of Johnson on Brexit, said he wouldn't support the proposal at its first House of Commons vote on Monday.
I simply cannot approve or endorse a situation in which we go back on our word, given solemnly, Cox said on Times Radio. The breaking of the law ultimately leads to very long-term and permanent damage to this country's reputation.
Sajid Javid, a former Treasury chief in Johnson's government, also said he would not vote for the bill, because I cannot support the UK pre-emptively reneging on the withdrawal agreement.
The UK formally left the bloc on Jan. 31, but existing trade rules remain in effect until the end of this year under a transition arrangement designed to provide time to negotiate a long-term trade agreement.
As part of the Brexit divorce deal, Britain and the EU agreed to keep Northern Ireland the only part of the U.K. to share a border with the bloc bound to some EU rules on trade, to avoid the need for border checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Both sides accepted the compromise to protect the open border, which helps underpin the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The Internal Market Bill, which the government hopes to pass into law within weeks, would give the British government the power to override the EU's agreed role in oversight of trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Johnson claims the EU has threatened to use an extreme interpretation of the withdrawal agreement to blockade food shipments from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland unless Britain agrees to accept EU regulations.
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