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Fri, 27 November 2020

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The Internal Market Bill is at odds with our nation’s duty to uphold the rule of law

The Internal Market Bill is at odds with our nation’s duty to uphold the rule of law

The clauses seek to abrogate parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, writes Lord Howard. | PA Images

3 min read

Whilst we must deliver Brexit, the process of delivering it should uphold the rule of law and honour our treaty obligations.

On Monday the House of Lords voted, by 433 to 165 – the largest majority in a vote of its kind for decades – to remove Part 5 from the Internal Market Bill.

Part 5 contains the clauses which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, admitted breaches international law. The clauses seek to abrogate parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, which was signed by the government barely a year ago. That agreement is a Treaty, bound in international law.

The government contends that the clauses in Part 5 of the Internal Market Bill are necessary because the European Union has acted in bad faith during negotiations for the UK’s departure from the European Union. Yet, no evidence of bad faith has been produced.

The Withdrawal Agreement itself contains a set of procedures for the resolution of any disputes which may arise. Article 168 states those procedures are the only way such disputes can be resolved. This involves discussions in the Joint Committee, arbitration if agreement can’t be reached and even expedited arbitration if the issues are urgent. The government has not referred any disputes to arbitration.

[Breaking international law is] completely at odds with hopes that the election of President Biden will see a revival of the rules based international order

As Parliament is sovereign, it can legislate to break international law if it chooses to do so. But this would set a dreadful example by a country formerly renowned for its respect for the rule of law. It would undermine our right to reproach other countries if they engage in conduct which breaks international law. It is also completely at odds with the widespread hopes that the election of President Biden in the US will see a revival of the rules based international order, which offers the best prospect of progress on the many challenges which face our planet.

On Monday there were many speeches in the House of Lords about the impact of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Internal Market Bill on peace in Northern Ireland. Some argue that the Bill imperils the Good Friday Agreement. Others, that the Withdrawal Agreement imperils the unity of the United Kingdom by requiring checks on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

These are serious issues. I hope an agreement will be reached on the terms of the new relationship between the UK and the EU when we leave at the end of the year, so that any checks can be kept to an absolute minimum.

The bottom line is that the Withdrawal Agreement was signed by the UK Government, approved by Parliament and formed the basis of the Brexit deal put to the people in last year’s General Election.

I voted for Brexit. I want the United Kingdom to be a sovereign independent state. But I want it to be a sovereign independent state which hold its head high, keeps its word, upholds the rule of law and honours its treaty obligations. Part 5 of the Internal Market Bill is at odds with all those aspirations. That is why I voted against it on Monday.

 

Lord Howard is a Conservative member of the House of Lords and former leader of the Conservative Party.

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