(Bloomberg) – Boris Johnson’s bill to overturn the Brexit deal he negotiated has been spared in the Commons by opponents of the prime minister’s Conservative party, including his predecessor Theresa May. challenge as members of parliament vote to allow it to move to the next legislative step.
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MPs voted 295 to 221 to allow the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to pass its second reading in the House of Commons, meaning it now enters the so-called committee stage, where the text will be considered line by line and amendments will be considered.
But the debate exposed the divisions that remain within Johnson’s Conservative Party over EU relations, as MPs including May, former international development minister Andrew Mitchell and Northern Ireland select committee chairman Simon Hall criticised the proposal, saying it would Breach international law and damage the UK’s reputation.
“I cannot support it,” May said. “It will weaken the UK’s standing in the eyes of the world.”
The timing was particularly awkward when Johnson met EU leaders at the G7 summit in Germany. His plan would allow the UK to unilaterally revise the post-Brexit settlement for Northern Ireland, risking a trade war with the EU.
Read more: Boris Johnson leads new fight to pass Brexit legal plan
The legislation sparked renewed legal action from the EU and soured relations with Britain’s largest trading partner. Johnson told reporters at the G7 meeting on Monday that his proposal could be implemented “fairly quickly” and he hoped to have it done by the end of the year.
“We can do it very quickly, parliament wants to,” Johnson said.
But if the upper house gets involved, it could take up to a year for the bill to pass parliament and become law.
Johnson’s government believes the legislation is necessary to address trade disruptions caused by the Brexit deal it signed, which created an effective customs border between Northern Ireland and the British mainland. It also wants to restore the region’s power-sharing administration, which collapsed after the Democratic Unionist Party opposed the deal.
“Failure of Statecraft”
Foreign Secretary Liz Strass said on Monday that ministers must go ahead with the plan because the EU was not flexible enough in negotiations and would not agree to changes to the text of the protocol.
“We simply can’t let this go with the flow,” Truss said, insisting the plan was legal. The bill would “address the real problems created by the agreement”.
Changes the UK government wants to make to the deal include reducing customs paperwork for traders to ship goods through the Irish Sea, stripping the European Court of Justice of its role in settling disputes, and extending UK subsidy controls and tax relief to Northern Ireland.
The stance has been widely criticised by legal experts as a breach of international law and has been made by dissident Conservative MPs. Hall called the plan a “failure of statecraft” and said the arguments in support of the plan were “untenable at best and unreasonable at worst.” Mitchell said the move “damaged our international reputation” and “threatened a trade war at a time when our economy stagnated”.
An EU trade war is a prospect, as the bloc says a post-Brexit trade deal is conditional on Britain respecting their divorce terms, of which the so-called Northern Ireland deal is a key part.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, told reporters during a visit to Oslo on Monday that Britain’s plans meant “continued uncertainty”.
“What we’re communicating with our UK partners is ‘go back to the negotiating table and respect international law,'” he said. “Because if the bill is passed as drafted, we just need to keep all options.”
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