World, Europe

Pressure over law-breaking bill mounts on UK gov't

Former attorney general calls on justice secretary to resign as British premier makes limited concession

Karim El-Bar   | 17.09.2020
Pressure over law-breaking bill mounts on UK gov't


A former government attorney general called on the British Justice Secretary Robert Buckland to resign over the government’s law-breaking UK Internal Market Bill, The Guardian reported.

Dominic Grieve, a former Conservative attorney general, told the British daily: “Although I feel some sympathy for ex-colleagues because of the position they have been put in, I think [Buckland’s] position is untenable. He should, I’m afraid, have resigned on the day the bill was published. He may have decided to stay and try and moderate [the government’s position]. I can understand that from a moral position but I think that’s wrong.”

Late Wednesday night, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a concession to deputies in the ruling Conservative Party opposed to the bill.

Johnson agreed to give MPs in parliament a vote if and when its law-breaking clauses are activated.

The agreement does not, however, remove the clauses, meaning MPs would be voting to break international law.

Lord Falconer, the shadow attorney general, tweeted: “This doesn’t remedy the breaches of international law which arise from the bill. And it envisages restricting people who have private rights taken away by the powers in the bill from going to court to complain about it. Honestly it’s getting worse not better.”

The Guardian also reported that France has lobbied the EU to launch legal action against the UK over the bill, which could result in enormous fines.

The British government has publicly admitted that its UK Internal Market Bill will break international law. The bill will unilaterally override key aspects of the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the EU, specifically the Northern Ireland protocol. The government argues this is necessary to ensure unrestricted access for goods from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK.

However, the deal Johnson now seeks to unilaterally override is the one he himself negotiated and campaigned on the basis of the last general election in 2019, and signed in January.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis previously told parliament: “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 read.

Sections of any future Brexit deal that contradict the bill “cease to be recognised 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 European Court or of any other court or tribunal.”

Biden and Brexit

Also late last night, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tweeted: “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

Biden is himself Irish-American, and is a staunch advocate of the Good Friday Agreement.

The UK Internal Market Bill unilaterally overrides sections of the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, a move that breaks international law.

It seeks to override a potential border in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the event of no-deal.

The issue is this will lead to a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event of no-deal. The hard border was dismantled by the Good Friday Agreement.

10 Downing Street and Conservative MPs pushed back against Biden.

A spokesman for Number 10 said: “We continue to remain absolutely committed to no hard border and no border infrastructure between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

“And we will continue to engage with our US partners on a bipartisan basis to ensure that our positions are understood,” he added, suggesting Biden had not understood the UK position.

Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told The Times: “We don't need lectures on the Northern Ireland peace deal from Mr Biden.

“If I were him I would worry more about the need for a peace deal in the USA to stop the killing and rioting before lecturing other sovereign nations.”

Joy Morrissey, the Conservative MP for Beaconsfield, replied to Biden’s tweet: “Many Americans know next to nothing about the troubles, the bombings & terrorist attacks on the U.K. Biden is shamelessly pandering to the American Irish vote while refusing to engage with the U.K. Government or U.K. Diplomatic channels. Nice.”

She subsequently deleted the tweet, and said: “Clearly it’s all about the Irish American vote.”

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