U.K.’s new law ‘breaches EU treaty’

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson  

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was accused on Wednesday of presiding over a “rogue state” as his government introduced legislation that intentionally breaches its EU withdrawal treaty in the messy countdown to a full Brexit divorce.

Mr. Johnson defended the government’s approach after its extraordinary admission that the new Bill governing post-Brexit trade in Britain and Northern Ireland breaks international law.

Asked why the British public at large should respect any laws now, the Prime Minister told Parliament: “We expect everybody in this country to obey the law.”

In a bad-tempered exchange with Scottish nationalist MP Ian Blackford, Mr. Johnson insisted the Bill was about “protecting jobs, protecting growth, ensuring the fluidity and safety of our U.K. internal market”.

‘Legal safety net’

“My job is to uphold the integrity of the U.K. but also to protect the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday Agreement,” he added, calling the new Bill a “legal safety net” if the EU makes an “irrational interpretation” of post-Brexit arrangements.

The government maintains its new U.K. Internal Market Bill is needed to smooth trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and help power a recovery from the pandemic, once a post-Brexit transition ends this year. But under its EU Withdrawal Treaty, Britain is meant to liaise with Brussels on any arrangements for Northern Ireland, which saw decades of bloodshed until the 1998 Good Friday deal, and will become the U.K.’s only land border with the EU.

Mr. Blackford argued the new Bill was a power-grab by London from the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

And he gave a withering assessment after Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis had conceded the changes do “break international law in a very specific and limited way”.

‘Creating a rogue state’

“The Prime Minister and his friends, a parcel of rogues, are creating a rogue state,” he added.

Mr. Lewis’s admission on Tuesday provoked incredulity across the political spectrum in Britain, Brussels and beyond, just as British and EU negotiators are engaged in fraught talks to agree a new trading relationship.

The government has struggled to explain why it has only now discovered problems with the EU treaty’s provisions for Northern Ireland, nine months after Mr. Johnson signed the document and said it set Britain on the path to a sovereign new future.

Recommended for you