Boris Johnson eviscerated by a ghost of Labour’s past

It is unusual for a prime minister to open a debate on the second reading of a bill in the House of Commons and Boris Johnson’s last-minute decision to do so for the UK Internal Market Bill raised eyebrows around Westminster. Downing Street denied that Johnson chose to step in for business secretary Alok Sharma after Keir Starmer said he was self-isolating because a family member was showing coronavirus symptoms.

If he hoped to avoid one of the Labour leader’s famously forensic goings over, the prime minister miscalculated badly because he was instead eviscerated by a parliamentary tour de force from Ed Miliband, a figure viewed on the Tory benches as a ghost of Labour past.

Johnson’s opening speech lurched between bombast and emollience, bigging up the threat from the European Union to British sovereignty while he played down his own to break international law. The bill’s breaches of the Brexit withdrawal agreement were “reserve powers” which the British government hoped it would never have to use.