Brandon Lewis defends ‘specific and limited way’ comment
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has defended his recent comment that the Internal Market Bill would break international law in a “specific and limited way”.
On Wednesday he told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs his assertions were consistent with advice from the Government’s main legal adviser, attorney general Suella Braverman QC.
He said: “My answer was in line with the legal opinion given by the law officers.
“The position I took at the dispatch box is not a breach of the ministerial code but I am not the arbiter of that.”
Dominic Raab on US visit following warnings over trade deal if GFA imperilled
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has travelled to the US for talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a range of issues.
The Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said the American Congress would never pass an economic agreement that it felt could “imperil” the Northern Ireland peace accord.
Mr Raab will also meet Ms Pelosi during his Washington visit, with Brexit expected to be one of the main items discussed.
Sadiq Khan sends message to PM demanding he ‘protect European Londoners’
‘Time is running out on trade deal’, von der Leyen warns
Ursula von der Leyen has said that time is running out for agreement with the UK on a post-Brexit free trade deal.
The European Commission president told the European Parliament meeting in Brussels: “Talks have not progressed as we would have wished and that leaves us very little time.”
Mrs von der Leyen said Margaret Thatcher had always insisted that the UK honoured its treaty commitments.
She quoted the former prime minister as saying: “Britain does not break treaties. It would be bad for Britain, bad for relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade.”
She added: “This was true then and this is true today. Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership.”
‘Withdrawal Agreement cannot be unilaterally changed’, von der Leyen warns
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has warned that the UK cannot unilaterally disregard the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
In her annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament, Mrs von der Leyen said both sides had agreed it was the only way to guarantee the Northern Ireland peace process.
“This Withdrawal Agreement took three years to negotiate and we worked relentlessly on it line-by-line, word-by-word, and together we succeeded,” she said.
“The European Union and the UK jointly agreed that it was the best and only way for ensuring peace on the island of Ireland and we will never backtrack on that.
“This agreement has been ratified by this house and the House of Commons. It cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded, disapplied.
“This is a matter of law and trust and good faith.”
Government looking to achieve ‘balance’ in Internal Market Bill powers
The Justice Secretary said the Government was working to ensure there was a “balance” should the powers in the Internal Market Bill ever need to be used.
Senior Tory Sir Bob Neill is calling for ministers to concede and create a parliamentary lock, meaning MPs would have to approve use of the powers.
“The issue is this – we want to make sure that if we hit a situation where we have this kind of dislocation, this kind of crisis if you like, then we can act swiftly to bring into power the necessary regulations,” Robert Buckland told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“And I think while, absolutely we have got parliamentary procedures to allow secondary legislation to come into force with debate and scrutiny, we have to get the balance right.
“I want to make sure we are fleet of foot when it comes to the crunch but that at the same time to make sure MPs have their say.
“That’s what the Prime Minister wants, that’s what he said in Parliament and I’m sure we’ll find a way to do that in a manner that is acceptable to all Conservative colleagues.”
‘Rule of six won’t cancel Christmas’, says Buckland
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland denied that the “rule of six” would effectively cancel Christmas, following criticisms from a source close to the Archbishop of Canterbury about the social restrictions imposed this week to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Cabinet minister said: “Archbishop Justin (Welby) makes an important contribution to this debate and he is right to point to the huge spiritual and social significance of Christmas.
“I don’t think any of us in Government want to be Oliver Cromwell-esque about this – we want to see families celebrate Christmas in a safe and happy way and we want to see our churches and indeed our other places of worship joining in that celebration.”
Mr Buckland added: “We are not going to cancel Christmas but the ‘rule of six’ is something that is clear and important and I do think we’ve committed to that and we need to stick to it.”
Buckland says UK will claim that EU breached obligations
Robert Buckland said any suggestion in the future that the UK has broken the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement through the Internal Market Bill will have been sparked by a European Union decision.
He told Sky News: “If we reach that stage, the reason for it is because we judge that sadly, despite everybody’s best efforts, the EU is in a position where we think they are actually breaching their obligations to us.
“It is like an international dispute where clearly there is a breach somewhere but it is going to be the subject of a lot of argument.
“I would like to avoid that, I think we can but we do need to just prepare for that contingency, that ‘break glass in case of emergency’ provision, which I believe this is.”
Buckland refuses to deny talks with PM and Sir Bob Neil
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland refused to deny he had held talks with the Prime Minister and senior Tory MP Sir Bob Neill over his amendment to the UK Internal Market Bill.
The Government is facing growing disgruntlement on its backbenches over its plans to override key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement by using domestic legislation.
Mr Buckland told Sky News: “I don’t think it would be right of me to start talking about private conversations.
“But what I can say is that there are lots of discussions going on with MPs from all parts of the debate, not just Bob Neill but MPs in all parts of the Conservative Party.
“We want to get on with this job, we want to get this Bill through, we want to make sure we are ready for any disagreements or disputes that might arise if we don’t get agreement at the Joint Committee, and that’s what we’re planning on.”
Asked about whether he had spoken to Sir Bob, Mr Buckland added: “I talk to Bob Neill regularly, I have talked to Bob Neill about the Internal Market Bill, I have spoken to other people (as well).”
Pushed on whether he had raised Sir Bob’s concerns with Boris Johnson, he said: “I’ve had lots of conversations with colleagues – ultimately it is up to the Prime Minister and those responsible for business in Parliament to get the details (sorted).”
Read more about the warnings from US politicians here:
US Senators warn PM over GFA (cont.)
The senators wrote that “many in Congress” considered the Good Friday Agreement, and a potential US-UK Free Trade Agreement to be “inextricably linked”.
They wrote: “Many in the United States and in Congress consider the issues of the Good Friday Agreement and a potential US-UK Free Trade Agreement inextricably linked.
“With the issues raised in this letter in mind, we therefore urge you to abandon any and all legally questionable and unfair efforts to flout the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement and look to ensure that Brexit negotiations do not undermine the decades of progress to bring peace to Northern Ireland and future options for the bilateral relationship between our two countries.”
US Senators warn PM over GFA
Senior US politicians have warned Boris Johnson that Washington will not support any free trade pact with the UK if Britain fails to uphold its commitments to Northern Ireland as part of Brexit.
The UK Internal Market Bill cleared its first Commons hurdle on Monday despite deep misgivings by some senior Tories, with amendments to the Northern Ireland provisions expected to emerge in the Commons next week.
Four US congressmen, led by chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel, have written to Mr Johnson urging the Government to respect its open border and peace process with Northern Ireland.
Read the full story here:
Downing Street has warned peers not to try and block the controversial legislation overriding parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
The UK Internal Market Bill passed its first hurdle in the Commons on Monday, but Boris Johnson is facing a major revolt of around 20 senior Conservatives over an amendment to the bill, which could break international law.
Downing Street has issued a warning to peers not to try to block controversial legislation overriding key elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
A No 10 spokesman said ministers believed the Salisbury Convention – which states the House of Lords should not vote down legislation to implement government manifesto commitments – should apply to the UK Internal Market Bill.
“We would expect the Lords to abide by the Salisbury Convention,” the spokesman said.
“Guaranteeing the full economic benefit of leaving the EU to all parts of the United Kingdom and ensuring Northern Ireland’s businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of the UK were clear Conservative manifesto commitments which this legislation delivers.”
Some peers have warned that the Bill – which passed its second reading in the Commons on Monday – will not get through the upper chamber in its current form.
Read the full story here:
Priti Patel today contradicted Cabinet colleague Brandon Lewis by denying his dramatic Commons admission that the Government is ready to break international law in a “very specific and limited way”.
Speaking after a major rebellion by around 20 senior Conservatives against the new Internal Market Bill, the Home Secretary appeared to signal a climbdown by declaring: “We are absolutely not doing that.”
European Commission ‘very much in touch’ with British Government over new Brexit developments
Asked if the European Commission was in touch with the UK Government regarding the Internal Market Bill, a commission spokesman told a Brussels press briefing: “We were very much in contact with the British authorities.
“Vice president (of the EC) Maros Sefcovic even went to London extremely quickly in order to seek clarifications and make the views of the EU known on this issue.
“Which led… to the deadline which was set for the UK to withdraw the provisions from the draft Internal Market Bill.
“This is what we expect from the United Kingdom and we have made our views extremely clear.
“And we are not going to speculate on anything in the meantime. We are waiting to see the developments in London on this issue.”
Brexit Bill criticised as ‘shocking’ by Irish Government
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has described the decision by the British Government to vote through controversial legislation designed to override key elements of the Brexit deal as “pretty shocking”.
He said the “deliberate strategy” of the British Government damages its reputation internationally.
The UK Internal Market Bill cleared its first Commons hurdle on Monday despite deep misgivings by some senior Tories.
Boris Johnson’s controversial plan to use domestic law to supersede elements of the Withdrawal Agreement he signed with Brussels passed its second reading by 340 to 263 – a Government majority of 77.
Mr Coveney said the “unwelcome distraction” has eroded trust on both sides of the negotiating teams in the search for a trade deal.
“For many people it’s pretty shocking that the British Government is voting through its parliament a Bill that breaks international law,” Mr Coveney said.
“I don’t ever remember a time that has happened before.
“Let’s wait and see what happens to this Bill because I think there is certainly an awful lot of division within Westminster as to whether it is acceptable or not to do that.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to Downing Street following the weekly Cabinet meeting at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office:
Home Secretary Priti Patel said “we are absolutely” not breaking the law.
She said that the withdrawal Agreement was designed to safeguard the integrity of the United Kingdom.
“It is not about breaking the law,” she said.
Ms Patel added: “Parliament is sovereign when it comes to how international treaties are not just interpreted but applied through acts of Parliament.”
Asked whether Brandon Lewis was wrong about saying the Tories were breaking the law, she said: “We are absolutely not doing that,” adding:
The purpose of the bill is to ensure we preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Home Secretary Priti Patel defended the controversial clauses in the Internal Market Bill.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is a safety net. And that is why we have introduced this in this particular Bill.”