Government pushes ahead with bill to override key parts of Brexit Withdrawal Agreement

Prime Minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street, Westminster, London, to attend Prime Ministe

Prime Minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street, Westminster, London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday September 9, 2020. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Downing Street is pushing ahead with legislation that will override key aspects of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement signed by Westminster and all 27 EU member states.

The government has published a draft version of the internal market bill which includes provision that would allow ministers to unilaterally interpret the Withdrawal Agreement.

Clause 45 the draft legislation says: 'Certain provisions to have effect notwithstanding inconsistency or incompatibility with international or other domestic law.' This would effectively allow ministers to decide how key elements of the agreement would work in Northern Ireland without input from the EU.

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Sky News' Sam Coates said the legislation represented a 'very big moment for parliament' as MP are left to 'consciously choose' whether to override a piece of domestic law.

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The move has drawn the ire MPs and EU officials.

European Council president Charles Michel tweeted: 'The Withdrawal agreement was concluded and ratified by both sides, it has to be applied in full.

'Breaking international law is not acceptable and does not create the confidence we need to build our future relationship.'

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was 'very concerned about announcements from the British government on its intentions to breach the Withdrawal Agreement'.

She tweeted: 'This would break international law and undermines trust. Pacta sunt servanda = the foundation of prosperous future relations.'

Meanwhile, Labour is looking at 'potential amendments', a spokesman for leader Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The spokesman said: 'The Bill has just been published and we will publish a full response as soon as possible and look at any potential amendments.

'There are obviously serious concerns about the contents of the bill, the implications on devolution and the implications on the Northern Ireland Protocol.'

Labour is pushing for an urgent question on the legislation in the Commons for tomorrow.

Deputy first minister for Northern Ireland and Sinn Féin politician Michelle O'Neill called for the Irish government to put it firmly to the British government that it 'must adhere' to the international agreement.

'They have to fight very hard for our interests,' O'Neill added.

'We have fought very hard for the last three-and-a-half years since the Brexit debate started to protect the Good Friday Agreement, to make sure there is no hard border on this island and to protect our all-island economy.

'That was achieved in the protocol, that's what must be delivered upon and any attempt by the British government to circumvent that, to try to override that is not acceptable to the EU side and certainly shouldn't be acceptable to the Irish government.'

Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson said: 'Testing one's eyesight, natural justice, and only breaking the law in a limited and specific way. All excuses used by this government for their disregard for the rule of law.

'It seems it's one rule for them and another for the rest of us. At a time when the coronavirus crisis is taking an enormous toll, following guidelines is saving lives. Instead of showing leadership, this government is setting all the wrong examples and in doing so risking lives.

'This brazen hypocrisy has to stop. The prime minister must come forward and clarify his precise position when it comes to upholding the rule of law, here in the UK and internationally.'

News of the legislation has seen the pound sink to its lowest level against the US dollar since July.

The pound was also 1.7% lower at just under 1.10 euros amid accusations the government would effectively break international law over plans to rewrite elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

This comes as Brexit trade deal talks enter a crucial week, with Brussels' chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier arriving in London aware both sides' deadline of mid-October is looming.

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