LONDON — U.K. government plans to backtrack on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement will break international law, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told the House of Commons Tuesday.
The Financial Times reported Monday that sections of the Internal Market Bill, due to be published Wednesday, will override sections of the divorce deal Prime Minister Boris Johnson struck with the EU last year.
Asked by fellow Tory MP Bob Neill to reassure the House that there were no plans to break international law, Lewis sparked bemusement on all sides when he said the plans will “break international law in a very specific and limited way.” Even Neill himself looked stunned.
The FT report prompted fierce criticism from Brussels, just as talks on the future relationship between the U.K. and EU restarted. Downing Street spent much of Monday insisting they did not intended to backtrack on an international agreement. “We are fully committed to implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol and we’ve already taken many practical steps to do so,” Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said Monday.
Earlier Tuesday, the head of the U.K. government’s legal department Jonathan Jones resigned.
In the Commons this afternoon, Brandon Lewis did little to extinguish the fire.
“I would say to [Sir Bob Neill] that yes this does break international law in a very specific and limited way. We are taking the power to dis-apply the EU concept of direct effect required by Article 4 in certain, very tightly defined circumstances,” Lewis said.
He added that “there are clear precedents for the U.K. and indeed other countries needing to consider their international obligations as circumstances change.”
His opposite number, Labour’s Louise Haigh, tweeted that it was “astonishing” that the government admitted they will be breaching international law, adding “this seriously undermines our authority on the international stage.”
She had earlier accused the government and Johnson of using Northern Ireland as a “political football.”