Monday, 28 Sep 2020

Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan derailed as flaw in new bill exposed

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stuck by the new legislation, called the Internal Market Bill, as the EU and the UK head into yet another time-pressured series of trade talks. Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “This is a piece of legislation that delivers a vital legal safety net in order to ensure the integrity of the UK can be protected. “It is critical MPs pass this before the end of the year.” However, the EU and other political figureheads such as David Cameron have pulled apart the proposed bill, and said it breaks international law as it breaches the withdrawal agreement.

The withdrawal agreement was signed by both the UK and the EU last year, and included the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The protocol was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, by putting up a customs border in the Irish Sea instead.

Northern Ireland would have to follow the rules of the EU’s single and customs union market, but would still officially leave the bloc along with the rest of the UK at the end of this year — even in the event of a no deal Brexit.

The protocol also meant Northern Ireland would get no say in the governance of the rules, as it will not be an EU member state.

The new bill, however, will enable UK ministers to overrule parts of the protocol and alter the form of export declarations and other exit procedures if it passes through Parliament.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted that the new bill “does break international law” but only in “a very specific and limited way”.

This triggered fury among the EU’s figureheads, and the bloc gave Downing Street 20 days to retreat on the divisive bill.

Yet, Mr Johnson is standing firm, writing at the weekend that “it is deeply regrettable” that this has caused such division, but admitting “we cannot leave the theoretical power to carve up our country — to divide it — in the hands of an international organisation”.

However, there may be another obstacle on the horizon for No.10.

The think-tank, Institute for Government, has pointed out some other flaws with the new bill that could affect whether or not it gets through Parliament outside of the ongoing debate about international law.

Breaking down the proposed bill, the non-profit explained how Downing Street intends to create an Office for the Internal Market, which will be an overarching independent monitoring body to watch over the changes through the devolved legislatures.

The office would seek to seize powers to replace EU cash for projects in the four nations of the UK as well.

The Institute for Government pointed out that this office could create a problem further down the line, explaining: “There is a clear gap in the Government’s plans around how governance of the internal market will function at the political level – although unlikely to be included in legislation – it is not clear how disputes around the functioning of the internal market will be managed.”

The EU and the UK were stuck in a spat over the bloc’s attempts to have a “permanent base” in Northern Ireland during earlier Brexit negotiations.

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The bloc wanted to oversee the customs checks within Northern Ireland and the implementation of the withdrawal agreement.

However the UK was quick to shut the bloc’s attempts to gain more control down.

Prospect magazine explained: “Article 12 [of the Northern Ireland Protocol] permits the presence of EU officials in Northern Ireland but does not explicitly mandate a permanent office.

“The protocol does, however, make clear the need for checks on goods arriving in NI from Great Britain.”

Another clause in the Internal Market Bill states regulation for goods’ exit procedures “cannot be deemed unlawful on the basis of incompatibility with international or domestic law”.

The Institute for Government added: “This could limit the ability to challenge these regulations in the courts and could set up a clash with the judiciary.”

It continued: “The UK Government is currently seeking an exemption from exit summary declarations, as required by EU’s customs rules which apply under the protocol, for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.

“In the event that no agreement is reached, this will allow the UK to remove the requirement unilaterally.”

The EU has already threatened to take Britain to court over the new bill, with the European Commission claiming it will “not be shy” in taking legal action at the European Court of Justice — a move which could lead to financial penalties for the UK.

Devolved administrations have also appeared furious at the bill, with Scotland’s Government saying it is an “assault on devolution”, while Wales’ counsel general dubbed it a “power grab”.

Some of Northern Ireland’s MPs in Westminster want to block the bill — although others have welcomed it, such as the DUP, who believe the EU should not be allowed to isolate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

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