Despite the UK Brexiting back in January, we are still going through our transition phase in which complicated matters such as Free Trade Agreements, immigration and customs arrangements need to be cleared up.
And even though Britain has recently managed to secure a free trade agreement with Japan, Boris Johnson and his Government are still facing a great deal of criticism from MP’s, the commentariat and even former Prime Ministers over the introduction of the Internal Markets Bill.
What is the Internal Markets Bill?
It’s essentially a bill being proposed to the House of Commons which seeks to update the laws currently governing the UK internal market. In essence, creating new principles to go alongside existing ones.
The reason for proposing this bill is so that after the Brexit transition period ends, the UK will have managed to set up internal arrangements for trading between the four UK nations.
What is the problem with this current bill?
The British Government has stated the bill is being used as a measure to preserve the UK’s territorial integrity. However, the EU slammed the bill, saying that it broke international law.
When addressing the matter in the Commons, Brandon Lewis (Secretary of State for Northern Ireland) said the bill would break international law in a specific and limited way.
And he’s right! It will do so by overriding section four of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
According to the Institute for Government: “The bill would give ministers powers to make regulations about state aid and customs procedures for trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and would allow ministers to make regulations inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement.”
This, unfortunately, breaches Article 4 of the withdrawal agreement, which says the UK must use primary legislation (main laws passed by the legislative bodies of the UK, including the UK Parliament.) to give full effect to the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law.
But it is worth noting the UK would only be in breach of these laws if such powers were actually used.
Will the Internal Market Bill Pass?
Last night MP’s backed the Internal Market Bill by 340 votes to 263. So, yes, the bill has passed, but only its first hurdle. And even though Boris Johnson’s backbenchers didn’t let him down, he still isn’t without his critics. Former PM’s and several Tory MPs have warned that by breaking international law, it damages the UK’s stance on the world stage.
Former Prime Minister, Theresa May posed a question to the Government about the matter saying: “The Government is now changing the operation of that agreement. Given that, how can the Government reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs?”
Unsurprisingly, Mrs May has the same concern as everyone else. If the Government are choosing to break ‘international law’ and going back on what they agreed with the EU, only a few months ago, then how can they be trusted with signing agreements further down the line?
Point Of View
With Boris Johnson’s hefty majority in the House, it was unlikely the bill would be stopped in its tracks. However, it will face more scrutiny from MP’s in the Commons today, and in terms of getting through the Lords, well there is nothing to say they couldn’t stop it from being passed.
I wasn’t all that surprised when I first heard Brandon Lewis say the Government would be “breaking international law”. I suppose if you look at this governments track record, breaking international law is undoubtedly something the rebellious Dominic Cummings is looking to tick off his bucket list.
In terms of what it does to Britain’s reputation on the global stage, well, I’ve always been of the firm belief that we must stand on principle; otherwise, what do we stand for? Are we to become a nation that says one thing and does another?
Countries from all over the world look at a nation like Britain as a leader in diplomacy. Now that we are on the verge of breaking international law, how are we then supposed to stand up to countries like Russia and China when they breach the rules?
Britain is about to transition onto the global stage. It should be an opportunity for us as a nation to stand tall and forge new relationships, however unless the UK can present itself as an honorable ally then how do you expect people to trust us?