Boris Johnson urges MPs to support controversial Brexit bill to guarantee 'political integrity' of UK

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  • September 14, 2020
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Boris Johnson has urged MPs to support a controversial Brexit bill to “guarantee the economic and political integrity of the UK”.

The Prime Minister opened the debate on the Internal Market Bill in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, taking the place of Business Secretary Alok Sharma.

He has faced a fierce backlash over concerns the Bill could break international law, with some senior MPs vowing to rebel against it.

But Mr Johnson told the Commons that the Bill is a “safety net” and an “insurance policy”.

He told MPs: “The creation of our United Kingdom by the Acts of Union of 1707 and 1801 was not simply a political debate but an act of conscious economic integration that laid the foundations for the world’s first industrial revolution and the prosperity we enjoy today.

“When other countries in Europe stayed divided, we joined our fortunes together – and allowed the invisible hand of the market to move Cornish pasties to Scotland, Scottish beef to Wales, Welsh beef to England and Devonshire clotted cream to Northern Ireland or wherever else it might be enjoyed.”

Boris Johnson in the Commons (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Johnson warned that in recent months the European Union had “suggested it is willing to go to extreme and unreasonable lengths using the Northern Ireland protocol” to “exert leverage”.

“I have absolutely no desire to use these measures,” he said. “They are an insurance policy and if we reach agreement with our European friends, which I still believe is possible, they will never be evoked.

“If they were ever needed, ministers would return to this House with a statutory instrument on which a vote will be held.”

The Prime Minister added: “The intention of this Bill is clearly to stop any such use of the stick against this country and that’s what it does.

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“It’s a protection, it’s a safety net, it’s an insurance policy, and it is a very sensible measures and in a spirit of reasonableness, we are conducting those checks in accordance with our obligations, we are creating the sanitary and vito-sanitary processes required under the Protocol and spending hundreds of millions of pounds on helping traders.”

David Cameron recently became the fifth ex-premier to criticise the Prime Minister’s tactics and around 20 MPs indicated they may rebel in tonight’s vote at 10pm.

The ministers will vote on up to three possible amendments tonight, then on the second reading of the Bill, which could see 20 rebel of abstain, then on a timetable motion.

Sir Bob Neill, Tory chairman of the Commons Justice Select Committee, said: “I’ve listened carefully to what the Prime Minister has said. Would he accept that were our interlocutors to behave in such an egregious fashion which clearly would be objectionable and unacceptable to us, there is already provision under the Withdrawal Agreement for an arbitrary arrangement to go into place.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband criticised Boris Johnson’s ‘blunderbuss’ approach (PA)

“And were we to take reserved powers is it right, does he accept, that those reserved powers should only be brought into force as a final backstop if we have in good faith tried to act under the Withdrawal Agreement and are then frustrated?

“The timing on which they come into force is very important for our reputation as upholders of the rule of law.”

Mr Johnson replied: “My honourable friend is absolutely right in what he says and he knows a great deal about this matter. It is of great importance that we go through the legal procedures as we will.

“But I must say to him as things stand… there are other avenues, in addition, to the potential blockade on agricultural goods that the EU… could explore if they are determined… to interpret the protocol in absurd ways and if they fail to negotiate in good faith.”

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Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said there are questions around the Bill which go to the “heart of who we are as a country”.

He criticised Mr Johnson’s “blunderbuss approach” and accused his administration of “incompetence”.

“This is his deal. It’s his mess, it’s his failure,” the shadow business secretary told ministers. “It’s time for him to fess up.”

Mr Miliband, who is standing in for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, said: “There are two questions at the heart of this Bill and why we’ll be opposing it tonight.

“First, how do we get an internal market after January 1 within the UK while upholding the devolution settlements which have been a vital part of our constitution now for two decades and are essential for our union?

“And secondly, is our country going to abide by the rule of law? A rules based international order for which we are famous around the world and have always stood up.

“These are not small questions, but go to the heart of who we are as a country and to the character of this government.”

Mr Miliband said it was not an argument about “Leave vs Remain” but “Right vs Wrong”.

He told the Commons: “Our global reputation for rule-making not rule-breaking is one of the reasons we are so respected around the world.

“And when you ask of people to think of Britain they think of the rule of law and let’s be clear after the Prime Minister’s speech this is not an argument about Remain vs Leave, it is an argument about Right vs Wrong.”