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*DISCLAIMER: This article is part of a developing story with the bill now having passed the House of Commons and the EU in the process of taking legal actions*
As we have come to expect over the past 4 years, there has been a further twist in this saga called Brexit. Eyebrows were raised during the COVID19 crisis when Boris Johnson and his government decided to let the June deadline for a Brexit Deal extension request expire. This reluctance to extend has left both parties in the extremely difficult situation of having to agree on a Brexit deal before the end of 2020 as well as fighting one of the largest and most deadly pandemics ever seen on this planet.
As we have seen during the COVID-19 crisis, Mr. Johnson has attempted to cover up any Brexit discussions or problems with other news. On Tuesday evening, with this story breaking, the PM once again covered his tracks by announcing a reduction in social bubbles for people in England, which has caused mass confusion and backlash in the UK.
Over the last few days, we have seen news coming out of Downing Street regarding Boris and his reluctance to stick to the original withdrawal agreement agreed and passed by both the European and UK Parliaments. But why?
Well, the drama all stems from the UK’s new “Internal Market” bill. The legislation, set out by the government on Wednesday, gives the UK government the power to define which goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be “at risk” of ending up in the Republic of Ireland and, therefore, subject to tariffs. However, this legislation directly contradicts a fundamental aspect of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement signed by the UK and the EU. This agreement stated that this process would be a decision for a Joint Committee, made up of representatives from both the UK and the EU.
The “Internal Market” bill does not only go against this principle but it also allows the UK to remove the need for export declarations for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, another decision that was meant to be discussed in this Joint Committee. It, therefore, enables the UK to decide whether EU state aid laws affecting firms in Northern Ireland should be applied to linked firms in Great Britain.
When queried about the bill and its rather questionable content in the House of Commons, Tory MP and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis reassured MPs that the plans will only “break international law in a very specific and limited way“- notion that raised the eyebrows of international commentators.
However, just the day before Mr. Lewis’ comments, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson stated that “We (the UK Government) are fully committed to implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol and we’ve already taken many practical steps to do so.” Then who are we to believe in this predicament?
Well, seeing as these aspects do feature in the bill, which you can read here, Mr. Lewis seems to be telling the truth with his willingness to break international law. After all, we have already seen Boris break the law before, with his illegal prorogation of Parliament back in 2019.
This clear intention to violate international law has drawn criticism from many, including from within the Conservative Party and former Prime Minister Theresa May herself, who asked:
“How can the government reassure future international partners that the U.K. can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs?”
The worries of Mrs. May are valid; this draws into serious doubt the credibility of any agreement signed by the British government. Moreover, the moves of the government will not help the already tense relations between the EU and the UK in a bid to find a suitable EU-UK Trade Deal. The chances of a No-Deal Brexit are increasing by the minute, betraying not only the general public but also “Leave” voters, sold the vision of a Brexit deal, even by Mr. Johnson himself, who famously argued that “There is no plan for no-deal because we are going to get a great deal”.
Only time will tell if this is yet another Boris Johnson U-turn.
However, the EU on Thursday called on the UK government to withdraw aspects of the draft Internal Market Bill “in the shortest time possible and in any case by the end of the month,” or face its “number of mechanisms and legal remedies” to address “violations” of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. Therefore, it is hard to see positive changes in the negotiations anytime soon.
The talks over a Brexit Deal continue, and the saga is one to follow over the next months as proceedings seem to be fast approaching their deadline, no matter what that may be.
- Is the UK Government acting irresponsibly?
- Will a No-Deal Brexit be dangerous for Europe?
- Are Trade Deals with the UK at risk of being made redundant with their willingness to break agreements?