British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his plan to unilaterally rewrite the UK’s divorce deal with the European Union was an insurance policy against the bloc’s unreasonable behavior. It did so when his former attorney general joined a growing number of once loyal lawmakers who condemned the controversial move.
Johnson said Monday that a proposed law was needed to override parts of the Brexit withdrawal deal as the EU could “make extreme and unreasonable efforts” in treating the former UK member.
“I have absolutely no desire to use these measures,”
The UK officially left the bloc on January 31, but existing trade rules will remain in place until the end of this year as part of a transition that should allow time for a long-term trade deal to be negotiated.
Johnson’s Conservative government has recognized that the bill violates the legally binding withdrawal treaty that the UK and EU have ratified. The legislation threatens to sink the already lost negotiations between the UK and the EU on a post-Brexit trade agreement.
Ed Miliband, business spokesman for the opposition Labor Party, accused Johnson of “destroying the reputation of this country and the reputation of his office”.
With an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons, Johnson is expected to have enough votes to get his legislation through parliament, but there is great unease within the Conservative Party about the illegal move.
Geoffrey Cox, who was the government’s chief legal representative in negotiating the Brexit withdrawal agreement less than a year ago, said a rejection of the deal was an “incomprehensible” violation of international law.
Cox, previously a strong supporter of Johnson on Brexit, said he would not support the proposal in its first vote in the House of Commons on Monday.
“I just cannot approve or support a situation where we solemnly take our word for it,” Cox said on Times Radio. “Breaking the law ultimately leads to very long-term and permanent damage to the reputation of this country.”
Sajid Javid, a former chief financial officer in Johnson’s administration, also said he will not vote for the bill because “I cannot support the UK’s preventive opposition”.
The UK officially left the bloc on January 31, but existing trade rules will remain in place until the end of this year under a transitional arrangement that is intended to allow time to negotiate a long-term trade deal.
As part of the Brexit divorce deal, the UK and the EU have agreed to bind Northern Ireland – the only part of the UK that shares a border with the bloc – to some EU trade rules to avoid the need for border controls to move goods between Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland. Both sides accepted the compromise to protect the open border, which supports the peace process in Northern Ireland.
EU INQUIRIES UK RERERITE BREXIT BILL, DANGER LEGAL MEASURES
The Single Market Act, which the government wants to enact within a few weeks, would give the UK government the power to override the EU’s agreed role in overseeing trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Johnson claims the EU has threatened to use “an extreme interpretation” of the take-back agreement to “block” food shipments from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland unless the UK agrees to accept EU rules.
He said the bloc threatened “to cut customs lines in our own country and divide our own country”.
The EU denies the threat of blockade and just wants Britain to comply with the terms of the agreement. EU leaders are outraged by the Prime Minister’s proposal and have threatened the UK with legal action if it does not drop the proposal by the end of the month.
Two former Conservative British Prime Ministers, John Major and Theresa May, have condemned the legislation. On Monday a third, David Cameron said he had “concerns”.
Conservative lawmaker Rehman Chishti resigned as the prime minister’s special envoy on religious freedom on Monday in protest of the bill. He tweeted that as a former attorney, “I care about the values of respect for the rule of law and my own word.”
What puzzles some observers is that Johnson is opposed to a deal that he negotiated and touted as an “oven-ready” deal that would “bring Brexit to a close”. This declaration of victory was key to Johnson’s successful December 2019 election campaign.
“There was a political need for the government to reach an agreement and then go to the electorate claiming they had Brexit in order to coin a sentence,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.
“I think it may have been the case, in some ways, that it was” hurry to make the deal and then calmly repent “. And what we’re seeing now is the repentance.”
Johnson’s move has undermined dwindling trust between the UK and the EU in an attempt to negotiate a new trade relationship.
Despite the coldness in relations between London and Brussels and the threat of legal action, trade talks between the two sides are set to continue this week. Both sides say a deal has to be agreed by next month in order for it to be ratified by December 31st.
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If there is no agreement, both sides will impose tariffs and other trade barriers in early 2021.
This would mean a huge economic disruption for the UK, which does half of its trade with the bloc. A no-deal exit on January 1 would also hit some EU countries, including Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, particularly hard.