Former Tory prime minister Theresa May has questioned Britain’s commitment to international obligations during a speech in the Commons.
May took to the floor during a debate on Brexit to ask the minister for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, whether the UK could be trusted to fulfil its obligations under international treaties amid reports that Downing Street is planning to overwrite key aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol forms part of the Withdrawal Agreement ratified by Westminster and all 27 EU member states late last year and will see Northern Ireland operate under EU single market and customs rules.
May. who helped negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement as prime minister, asked: ‘The United Kingdom government signed the Withdrawal Agreement with the Northern Ireland Protocol. This parliament voted that agreement into UK legislation. The government is now changing the operation of that agreement. Given that, how will the government reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations it signs?’
Responding to the echo of cheers in the chamber, Lewis replied: ‘We have worked with the EU in a spirit of good faith and I know both sides are working in the spirit of good faith to ensure we do implement the arrangements of the fundamental principles that lay behind the Protocol.’
He continued: ‘But the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol are not like any other treaty. It is written on the assumptions that subsequent agreements could be reached between us and the EU on the detail. That is the entire purpose of the specialised joint committee and we continue to believe that is possible.’
Lewis said the government was intent on amending the internal market and finance bills to give businesses ‘certainty’ ahead of the transition period ending in January.
‘The UK internal market bill and finance bill are the last legislative opportunities we have to give that certainty and confidence to the people and businesses of Northern Ireland that we would deliver what we agreed in the Protocol, what we outlined in our manifesto, and what we set out in the command paper.’