Without irony, minister Michael Gove has claimed without a new Brexit bill the UK could be broken up by the EU.
Gove echoed the prime minister in declaring that the EU could put ‘at threat the integrity’ of the Union, and insisted the Government could see off a Tory rebellion.
In incendiary remarks, Johnson said Brussels was threatening to put a ‘blockade’ in the Irish Sea which could ‘seriously endanger peace and stability’ in Northern Ireland.
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He was working to quell a plan to amend the legislation from senior Tories who are incensed that it could break international law by overriding the Withdrawal Agreement signed by Johnson in October.
He was joined by Gove in attempts to drum up support for the UK Internal Market Bill ahead of a Commons debate on Monday.
‘We’re doing our part – generously – to help protect the EU’s own single market, but we’re clear that what we can’t have even as we’re doing all that is the EU disrupting and putting at threat the integrity of the United Kingdom,’ Gove told the BBC.
‘These steps are a safety net, they’re a long-stop in the event, which I don’t believe will come about but we do need to be ready for, that the EU follow through on what some have said they might do which is in effect to separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.’
Gove conceded that ‘we are reaching a crunch moment’, but insisted ‘we have got the support of our own MPs’.
Both Ireland and the EU have warned that Johnson’s plans pose a serious risk to the peace process rather than protecting the Good Friday Agreement.
But he doubled down, and argued it is ‘crucial for peace and for the Union itself’ and said voting the Bill down would reduce the chances of a trade deal with the EU, which is hanging in the balance.
Johnson appeared not to have ended the disquiet within his party during the call, with senior backbencher Sir Bob Neill saying he was not reassured by the speech.
Sir Bob, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee and is tabling an amendment to the Bill which he says would impose a ‘parliamentary lock’ on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, said he still contends it contains ‘objectionable’ elements.
‘I believe it is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward,’ he told Channel 4 News.