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This controversial piece of Brexit legislation does exactly what critics feared

Written by on 9 September 2020

There were rumours of the government backing away on Monday.

On Tuesday night suggestions surfaced it might pull the bill altogether. But no.

The most controversial piece of legislation, judged even against these recent turbulent times, emerged shortly after Prime Ministers’ Questions – and does exactly what the government briefed and its critics feared.

Controversial Brexit changes published

Boris Johnson has pressed ahead with legislation to give his government the power to override the Withdrawal Agreement.

The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill lists all the legislation that can now, once this is approved by parliament, be ignored by ministers.

This includes, not only, as expected, the Northern Ireland Protocol, and “other provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement” but also – incredibly – “any other EU law or international law”.

There is no further detail why this is necessary in the accompanying explanatory notes. Or why it doubles down a few lines later that this law can override “any other legislation, convention or rule of international or domestic law whatsoever, including any order, judgement or decision of the Europe Court or of any other court or tribunal”.

More from Boris Johnson

Extraordinary language.

And this will do nothing to dampen the fears of Tory rebels headed by Theresa May, who is hardly a natural Commons rebel, along with the band of Tory select committee chairs.

Added to them are all Downing Street’s more traditional enemies – Labour who say it’s wrong, lawyers who decry the breach of principle and EU officials warning breaches of good faith have consequences.

Minister admits new bill will break law

This is what Downing Street want. They enjoy reducing Brexit to a binary row, fought in the TV studios and commons chamber, in which they can label opponents as enemies of Brexit.

It is the political ground they feel most comfortable about fighting. Number 10 relishing the fact that this is a defeat looming for opponents of a tough stance on Brexit.

But is it quite that simple? And if it is, why are some leading Brexiteers also feeling let down?

This bill gives ministers extraordinary powers to defy international laws, particularly over state aid and border checks but potentially over other areas too.

However the detail of how the government would exercise them is not spelt out – will there be any checks at all, for instance?

Sir Keir Starmer tries recasting himself as the 'competent Leaver'

Sir Keir Starmer tries recasting himself as the ‘competent Leaver’

We don’t know the answer to this question, because the legislation doesn’t say – instead inviting these questions to be settled at a later date by regulations.

So if you’re a Brexiteer, while it’s welcome that the government has given itself the ability to defy Europe, it’s not clear that it will actually end up doing so.

For several months now the ERG, the Brexiteer European Research Group, has wanted the prime minister to abandon the Withdrawal Treaty altogether.

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For months, the whips have promised them that the Internal Market Bill would be a sufficient substitute.

But now Brexiteers are having to wait again for the regulations, delivery date unknown, which may do the heavy lifting of overriding certain parts of the Withdrawal Agreement.

And the whole of the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement, which they still hate, stands.

The prime minister is upsetting both wings of his party. This is curious, and may be why nothing in this saga can be taken at face value.