The British government outlined Wednesday details of a new bill which a senior minister has admitted will break international law in a “specific and limited way”.
The UK Internal Market Bill, which outlines how powers currently held by the European Union (EU) will be shared out after a Brexit transition period ending on Dec. 31, was formally presented to parliament Wednesday.
The bill will allow the government to override key elements of a Brexit deal it agreed last year with the EU, some politicians have claimed.
British Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted Tuesday it would go against the deal in a “specific and limited way”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons (lower house of parliament) Wednesday that it is an essential element of the country’s future trading arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Johnson said he needs “a legal safety net” to protect the country from extreme or irrational interpretations of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, saying such an interpretation could put a border down the Irish Sea.
Local media reported that the new bill had sparked a backlash from senior Conservative politicians and prompted the resignation of a top civil servant.
They warned that it risks undermining Britain’s reputation as an upholder of international law.
Senior politician Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the House of Commons Defense Committee, said Britain risks losing the moral high ground if the government goes through with changes proposed in the new bill.
But government ministers insist the bill is needed to manage goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland if negotiations with the EU on a free trade agreement fail.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a media interview Wednesday that the changes are necessary to protect the Northern Ireland peace process if Britain fails to get a free trade deal with the EU.
The government said in a statement that the bill will protect jobs and trade across Britain after the transition period ends.
From Jan. 1, 2021, powers in a range of policy areas previously exercised at an EU level will flow directly to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the first time, the statement said.
“Without urgent legislation to preserve the status quo of seamless internal trade, rules and regulations set in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland could create new barriers to trade between different parts of the UK,” the statement added.
The government has also laid out plans to establish an independent monitoring body to support the smooth running of trade within the country.
Political commentators have described the timing of the move as provocative, coming as a critical round of talks continued in London in a bid to break a Britain-EU deadlock over a new post-Brexit trade deal.
The two sides started the eighth round of talks Tuesday in London. Johnson has also put further pressure onto the EU side by insisting there needs to be an agreement in place by Oct. 15.