London, Sep 9 (PTI) UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday defended a controversial new bill tabled in Parliament which is set to override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement, or so-called divorce pact, struck with the European Union (EU) ahead of Brexit.
The UK Internal Market Bill was tabled in the House of Commons with the declared aim of protecting jobs and trade across the whole of the United Kingdom after the Brexit Transition Period ends on December 31.
It is intended to distribute powers previously under EU jurisdiction to England and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The UK government claims the bill will guarantee companies can trade unhindered in every part of the UK, but critics including the EU see it as a breach of international law.
A particular focus is on the Northern Ireland Protocol within the divorce agreement, related to the shared border between UK territory of Northern Ireland and EU member-state of Ireland.
'My job is to uphold the integrity of the UK but also to protect the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday Agreement,” Johnson told MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the Commons.
'And to do that, we need a legal safety net to protect our country against extreme or irrational interpretations of the Protocol, which could lead to a border down the Irish Sea, in a way that I believe would be prejudicial to the interests of the Good Friday Agreement and prejudicial to the interests of peace in our country. And that has to be our priority,' he said.
The Scottish government reacted by saying that it did not rule out legal action to prevent it becoming law.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: 'The Tories' proposed bill for a so-called UK internal market is an abomination. It is a naked power grab which would cripple devolution.' The European Commission, meanwhile, has called for an extraordinary meeting to discuss the bill's contents.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took to Twitter to note: 'Very concerned about announcements from the British government on its intentions to breach the Withdrawal Agreement. This would break international law and undermines trust.' According to Downing Street, once the Transition Period ends, rules that have regulated how each home nation trades with each other over the past 45 years will fall away.
Without urgent legislation to preserve the status quo of seamless internal trade, rules and regulations set in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland could create new barriers to trade between different parts of the UK, unnecessary red tape for business and additional costs for consumers.
“For centuries the UK’s internal market has been the cornerstone of our shared prosperity, delivering unparalleled stability and economic growth across the Union,” said UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma.
“This bill will protect our highly integrated market by guaranteeing that companies can continue to trade unhindered in every part of the UK after the Transition Period ends and EU law falls away. By providing clarity over rules that will govern the UK economy after we take back control of our money and laws, we can increase investment and create new jobs across the United Kingdom, while maintaining our world-leading standards for consumers, workers, food and the environment,” he said.
The senior Indian-origin Cabinet minister said that without these necessary reforms, the way we trade goods and services between the home nations could be seriously impacted, harming the way we do business within our own borders.
“Now is not the time to create uncertainty for business with new barriers and additional costs that would trash our chances of an economic recovery,” Sharma added.
The government stresses that each devolved administration will still be able to set their own standards as they do now, while also being able to benefit from the trade of businesses based anywhere in the UK.
The draft legislation notes: 'Certain provisions to have effect notwithstanding inconsistency or incompatibility with international or other domestic law.' It adds any parts of the Brexit deal which contradict it 'cease to be recognised and available in domestic law'.
On Tuesday, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted to MPs in the Commons that it would have an impact on international law but insisted the legal breach would be in a 'very specific and limited way'.
'Breaking international law is not acceptable and does not create the confidence we need to build our future relationship,' said Charles Michel, President of the EU Council, after the bill was tabled.
The UK formally left the EU on January 31 and entered into an ongoing transition period. At the start of 2021, either a new UK-EU trade deal must come into effect or there will be no-deal, meaning the two sides will revert to trading on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms. Negotiations to try and strike a new trade agreement are in process, with a number of issues of divergence to be contended with. PTI AK RUP RUP RUP