Britain’s Supreme Parliament on Tuesday delivered a fierce condemnation of the government’s controversial new Brexit legislation as a distance between Britain and the European Union over future trade relations continued.
The House of Lords voted 395-169 to add words to the Internal Market Act, expressing “regret” for the legislation, saying it “would undermine the rule of law and damage the UK’s reputation.”
The bill violates part of the legally binding Brexit withdrawal agreement by allowing Britain to override important provisions on Northern Ireland, the only part of Britain that shares a border with the EU. The UK government says the bill is needed as an insurance policy to ensure smooth trade between all parts of the UK, no matter what happens after Brexit.
The bloc sees this as an obvious breach of an international treaty signed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself less than a year ago.
Many peers spoke in the Lords to condemn the bill before the vote on Tuesday, which is likely to be the first of many attempts to derail legislation.
“This bill seeks to convince Parliament of a system that openly rejects two basic principles – that once-concluded agreements must be kept and that the government is not above the law,” said David Anderson, an independent member of the Lords. “How could we possibly go along with that?”
I spoke again to @DavidGHFrost today. My message: we need to make the most of the little time left.
Our door remains open.
– Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) October 20, 2020
The bill has been approved by the House of Commons, but faces strong opposition in the Lords, where Johnson’s Conservative party does not have a majority. Members of the unelected Lords will try to change it in the coming weeks before sending it back to the chosen subordinates, which gets the last word.
The legislation has soured talks between the UK and the EU on a new trade agreement. Britain left the EU politically on 31 January and will take an economic break when a transitional period expires on 31 December.
The UK-EU talks thoroughly last week, with each side urging the other to compromise to secure agreement. The EU said it was happy to continue talking, but Johnson said negotiations were over unless there was a “fundamental” shift from the bloc. He asked British companies to prepare for an economic break with the EU at the end of the year.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart, David Frost, spoke by telephone on Tuesday for the second day in a row without any breakthrough.
The office of the British Prime Minister called the conversation “constructive” but also said that nothing had changed since a day earlier when the UK said negotiations could only be resumed if the bloc accepted “that movement must come from both the EU and the UK ”
Barnier tweeted that he had told Frost: “My message: we should make the most of the little time left. Our door remains open. ”