Every Living Former PM Has Now Condemned Boris Johnson’s Plans to Break International Law
David Cameron has become the fifth and final former PM to come out against the Internal Market bill (Sky News)
David Cameron has followed all other living former Prime Ministers in coming out against Boris Johnson’s plan to break international law, after he broke his silence on Monday morning.
It comes after the former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox roundly condemned the changes to the Brexit deal put forward in the controversial Internal Market bill, saying breaking the rule of law “ultimately leads to very long term, and permanent damage to this country's reputation”.
He said he could not back the legislation as it unpicks the Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland protocol he helped draw up last year, telling TimesRadio: “I simply cannot approve or endorse a situation in which we go back on our word given solemnly, not only by the British government, and on behalf of the British crown, but also by Parliament when we ratified this in February.”
Mr Cox’s comments add to a growing rebellion among Tory MPs as the bill arrives in the Commons for debate today, further fuelled by the ex-leader of the party, Mr Cameron.
He told the media this morning: “Passing an act of Parliament and going on to break an international treaty obligation should be the very last thing you contemplate, an absolute last resort.
“So I have misgivings about what is being proposed.“
That made him the fifth former PM to denounce the bill, after Theresa May criticised it in the chamber last week, followed by Gordon Brown calling it an act of “self-harm”, and Tony Blair and John Major penning a joint article urging MPs to reject the "shameful" attempt to override the Withdrawal Agreement, saying it risks the peace process in Ireland.
But policing minister Kit Malthouse defended the legislation, saying it was about protecting the UK from the EU’s attempts to block food exports from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
When told on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Brussels had said that would not be the case, he added: "Well it would be perfectly possible for them to rule that out by saying they will guarantee recognition of the UK as a third country."
Mr Cox said he was sympathetic to such aims, but could not back breaking the law to do so: “I think that the government is within its rights to take lawful steps to challenge them and to bring them to them some better idea of reasonable behaviour, but what you can't do.
"And what I think is wrong, is to abandon an agreement to rewrite unilaterally parts of an agreement, which you only signed nine months ago and to which we've given our solemn word.”
Asked if he will vote for the bill the ex-Attorney General said: “No, I wouldn't unless the government were to clarify the circumstances in which these powers would be used, and dispel the very unfortunate impression given by Brandon Lewis at the despatch box that the government intends to use these powers to violate a treaty to which we solemnly entered, just a few months ago...
“But if the government were to say that these powers will only be used in these specific circumstances where it would be lawful to act in that way, well then that might well be a different position.
"But I haven't had those assurances yet and I shall be waiting keenly to listen to what the minister says at the despatch box today.”
He added: “I find myself in a very sad position. I'm a strong supporter of this government. I am a strong supporter of Brexit.
“But for me, the crossing of an important boundary is when a government says it's going to break the law and the treaty it signed.”
Asked about Mr Cox's intervention Mr Malthouse told the BBC: "Well it's very poetic but it doesn't, for me personally, solve the problem that we're faced with."
The minister said he will vote for the bill even if it breaks international law, saying: "I'll be voting for the bill because I don't believe that if that circumstance should arise, where food is prevented from moving from GB to Northern Ireland, that the Prime Minister has any choice but to take powers to allow Tesco to stock the shelves in Belfast."
And the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers ruled out rebelling, saying it is “sensible to have a fall-back position if the EU continues to refuse to negotiate reasonably on arrangements for transporting goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.
But Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said the plan was an act of "legislative hooliganism”, telling Today: "The fundamental thing is - I think we should take a step back - this is not normal.
"I've come on your programme many times to discuss many issues - I have never been on your programme discussing a British government coming along and seeking to break international law, an agreement it signed.
"It is honestly a sad day and that's why I think you hear people across the political spectrum condemning the government."