London, 15 September 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted on Monday that his bill to override part of Britain’s EU withdrawal agreement was needed to protect the country, rebuffing critics who argued that the bill would cause a breach of trust with Brussels.
“What this bill is simply seeking to do … is to protect this country against the EU’s proven willingness to use this delicately balanced [Irish border] protocol in ways for which it was never intended,” Johnson told lawmakers.
The bill would create a “legal safety net, taking powers in reserves whereby ministers can guarantee the integrity of our United Kingdom,” Johnson said ahead of a vote on the UK Internal Markets Bill, which the government was expected to win.
Reading from a prepared speech, Johnson said he “understands the unease” felt by many lawmakers, after five former prime ministers and many senior members of his Conservatives voiced concerns.
“I have absolutely no desire to use these measures. They are an insurance policy,” he said.
“And if we reach agreement with our European friends, which I still believe is possible, they will never be invoked.”
The European Commission urged Britain to drop parts of the bill during crisis talks last week, raising the prospect of legal action.
Johnson wants to override a provision in the withdrawal agreement that would impose different post-Brexit customs rules on Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
The provision on Northern Ireland seeks to prevent the creation of border checks between the territory, which is leaving the EU as part of the United Kingdom, and EU-member Ireland.
Former Conservative prime minister David Cameron warned earlier Monday that legislation allowing Britain to “break an international treaty obligation is the very, very last thing you should contemplate.”
Cameron told broadcaster ITV the bill was only designed as a contingency in case ongoing negotiations fail to yield an agreement on future relations between Britain and the EU.
“And of course the bigger picture here is that we are in vital negotiations with the European Union to get a deal … and I think we have to keep that big prize in mind,” he said.
Johnson has vowed to end the talks if no agreement is reached by mid-October, insisting that a no-deal Brexit would be a “good outcome” for Britain.
Four other former British prime ministers warned that Britain could lose trust with international partners if Johnson proceeds with the bill.
Conservative lawmaker Geoffrey Cox, a former chief legal adviser to Johnson, wrote in Monday’s Times newspaper that Britain is legally “obliged to accept all the ordinary and foreseeable consequences of the implementation of [the withdrawal] agreement.”
Britain formally left the EU in January and entered a transition period until the end of the year, during which it still belongs to the EU single market and customs union.
Talks are scheduled to continue this week on post-Brexit trade arrangements, but negotiations appear to have reached an impasse.