Without amendments, the Internal Market Bill is nothing short of a shambles
The Prime Minister won’t be able to hide the fact that this is a glaringly irresponsible piece of legislation, even in the eyes of many on his own backbenches, writes Sarah Olney MP. | PA Images
We have a duty to put a stop to the Internal Market Bill or at least remove its most damaging aspects. The Liberal Democrats have put forward amendments to remove clauses relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol, and to create a UK-wide “dispute resolution mechanism”.
Let there be no doubt that the UK Internal Market Bill is more than just the latest item on the long list of Boris Johnson's Brexit blunders. It is a reckless move that fundamentally undermines the UK's standing on the world stage and risks the integrity of our family of nations.
While it may have made it through its Second Reading test, the devil is in the detail. As MPs debate the minutiae of the Bill over the next few days, the Prime Minister won’t be able to hide the fact that this is a glaringly irresponsible piece of legislation, even in the eyes of many on his own backbenches.
So far the Conservative Government has claimed the Bill is a necessary step to maintain the smooth running of the UK internal market when the transition period ends in December, but let’s not imagine for one moment that the Bill offers viable solutions.
Of course, the integrity of the UK market is crucial. But the common framework which replaces EU law must be one decided upon collaboratively with the devolved administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Despite the obvious need for consensus, the Tories have already proved their willingness to press ahead without UK-wide consent and this Bill is no exception.
The UK Internal Market Bill strikes at the future constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom as a unitary state. The future of our country as a union of four nations is under greater threat than ever before - not least from the actions of our own government.
Beyond this, the Internal Market Bill sets a dangerous and utterly irresponsible precedent: in the words of the Government’s own ministers, in its current form it will “break international law”. The Government may have tried to reassure UK citizens, future trade partners, and indeed its own members, that the breach is “limited and specific”, but few will be taken in by this bizarre excuse.
It exposes the alarming hypocrisy of the Johnson Government. As my Liberal Democrat colleague Munira Wilson highlighted at Prime Minister’s questions last week, how can the Government call on its citizens to respect the rule of law when it defies it so blatantly itself?
Far from protecting the Good Friday Agreement, the Bill undermines it by creating needless uncertainty over the rules applying to Northern Ireland
As it stands, the Bill would shatter the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement - an agreement that was signed, sealed, and delivered by Boris Johnson himself less than a year ago and which was a pillar of his election campaign. The EU has made clear that any future UK-EU deal is contingent upon the UK’s adherence to that agreement. After all, that’s what negotiating in good faith is all about - making commitments, and sticking to them. But that is not something that Boris Johnson has a strong track record on.
Far from protecting the Good Friday Agreement, the Bill undermines it by creating needless uncertainty over the rules applying to Northern Ireland. It is imperative that the Government takes no action that could lead to hard border.
The Bill is the product of a Government that has consistently prioritised ideological games over what’s best for its citizens. We all have a duty to put the national interest first and put a stop to this Bill or at least remove its most damaging aspects.
The Liberal Democrats will continue to push for this, working with colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to uphold international law and give all home nations a voice in the internal market.
That is why the we have put forward amendments to remove clauses relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol, and to create a UK-wide “dispute resolution mechanism”. We are also supporting the addition of representatives of devolved administrations in the new “Office for the Internal Market”.
Without these changes, this bill is nothing short of a shambles. It threatens to tarnish our reputation on the world stage and swing a wrecking ball through our constitution.
I urge colleagues across the house, not least those on the Tory benches, to stand firm, stand up for the rule of law and vote against this Bill and the catastrophic consequences it could have for our great family of nations.
Sarah Olney is the Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.