AFP – Britain readied yesterday to intentionally breach its EU divorce treaty with new legislation that critics warned would undermine its global standing and any hopes for an orderly exit out of the world’s biggest single market.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government was to submit a new bill governing the UK’s own internal market across its devolved nations, to take effect after the expiry of a transition period out of European Union membership in December.
The government maintains the changes are needed to smooth post-Brexit trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and help power a recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.
But Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has conceded they do “break international law in a very specific and limited way”, in an extraordinary admission that provoked incredulity across the political spectrum in Britain, Brussels and beyond.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon vowed to fight the bill, branding it a “full-frontal assault on devolution”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “comfortable” with Britain breaking obligations under its EU Withdrawal Agreement, having only belatedly apparently discovered problems with the treaty’s provisions for Northern Ireland.
“The primary international obligation around this issue is to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland and I very much hope we conclude a deal before the end of the transition period,” he told Times Radio.
Tobias Ellwood, Johnson’s Conservative colleague who chairs the House of Commons defence committee, told BBC radio that breaching the Brexit treaty meant Britain would “lose the moral high ground”.