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Theresa May And Other Senior Tories Have Hit Out At The Government After It Admitted It Will Break International Law

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis admitted plans to alter the Brexit divorce deal would break international law (Parliamentlive.TV)

4 min read

The former Prime Minister Theresa May and a number of senior Tories have criticised the Government’s plans to break international law with an update to the Brexit divorce deal.

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis admitted in the Commons that changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and the existing Norther Ireland protocol “does break international law in a very specific and limited way”.

But Mrs May said the proposals in the Internal Markets Bill, due to be published tomorrow, will damage trust in the UK, while other Conservatives said it would be “regarded world-wide as an act of bad faith”, and the government must show the country’s “honour is not for sale or barter”

The ex-PM said in the chamber: "The UK government signed the Withdrawal Agreement with the Northern Ireland protocol, this Parliament voted that Withdrawal Agreement into UK legislation.

"The government is now changing the operation of that agreement. Given that, how can the government reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs?"

Mr Lewis replied: "We have worked with the EU in a spirit of good faith and I know we continue to do that, both sides working in a spirit of good faith to ensure we do implement the arrangements which uphold the fundamental principles that lie behind the protocol.”

He added: "But the Withdrawal Agreement and protocol are not like any other treaty, it was written on the assumption that subsequent agreements could be reached between us and the EU on the detail.”

But Mrs May’s comments were backed up by Simon Hoare, chair of the Northern Ireland affairs committee, asking the minister: “There appears to be no certainty for the continuity of our country as a country that keeps its word and abides by the rule of law and international obligations. 

“What certainty can my right honourable friend give me that the Government understand the seriousness of these issues?”

And Sir Bob Neill, whose question led to Mr Lewis’ admission, tweeted: “Any breach, or potential breach, of the international legal obligations we have entered into is unacceptable, regardless of whether it’s in a ‘specific’ or ‘limited way’. 

“Adherence to the rule of law is not negotiable.”

The senior Tory, chair of the justice committee, said the minister’s reply was at least “a straight answer to a straight question, but a very troubling one nonetheless”.

He added: “Even as a ‘contingency’, a willingness to break international law sits ill for a county that has always prided itself on upholding the rule of law.”

The Conservative former minister George Freeman said it was “worrying” to see the government’s senior legal adviser Jonathan Jones resign over the matter.

He added: “Yes. These are, rightly, tough negotiations. But to defend liberal democracy the UK must stand by its international treaty commitments.

“Theresa May is absolutely right to highlight in the House.”

He added: "Oh dear. That sound you hear? It’s the sound of the Supreme Court preparing to remind ministers that intentionally breaking the law - even in a very specific and limited way - is, well, unlawful.

Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the defence select committee, also commented on Mr Jones’ decision to quit, saying Britain’s “respected voice on the international stage comes from our duty and resolve to defend and uphold international laws.”

He added: This cannot change as we secure Brexit - otherwise our stance in holding China/Russia/Iran etc to account and upgrading the rules-based order is severely weakened.”

And senior backbencher Sir Roger Gale tweeted: “Seeking to re-negotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol will be regarded world-wide as an act of bad faith.

“Those of us who supported the Withdrawal Agreement did not expect that the Clause 38 ‘get out of jail’ provision would be used to try to re-write an international agreement signed up to by the Prime Minister.

“I want to see a deal with the EU but that is a matter for largely Michel Barnier, and if we reach 31st December without one then so be it. 

“What we must not do though is to undermine our international credibility. Britain is an honourable country and that honour is not for sale or barter."

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