Boris Johnson squirms as Ed Miliband grills him on Brexit bill

Kit Malthouse

Kit Malthouse

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to breach the Brexit treaty breaks Britain's tradition of upholding the rule of law and pushes it into "the ranks of despots", an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday.

"When the queen's minister gives his word, on her behalf, it should be axiomatic that he will keep it, even if the consequences are unpalatable", Johnson's former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said in The Times newspaper.

Conservative MPs Sir Charles Walker, Imran Ahmad Khan and Andrew Mitchell joined Javid in opposing the measure, while the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford urged other Tories to vote against the government as "a matter of principle".

But the Commons also voted against a Labour amendment to reject the bill entirely by 349 votes to 213.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday a bill that would break worldwide law by breaching parts of the Brexit divorce deal was needed because the European Union had not taken a "revolver off the table" in trade talks.

The Internal Market Bill, created to govern trade within the UK's four nations, gives United Kingdom ministers powers to modify or "disapply" rules relating to the movement of goods that will come into force from 1 January, when the United Kingdom leaves the EU's single market, if a successor trade agreement is not reached.

The UK parliament spent years arguing over how to leave the European Union - much of it arguing over arrangements for Northern Ireland - and delayed its exit date three times.

Mr Cox, who backed Leave in the referendum campaign, said it was "unconscionable" that the United Kingdom should seek to break global law by rewriting the withdrawal agreement with the European Union.

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He said it could mean levies of 61% on Welsh lamb, 90% on Scottish beef and 100% on Devonshire clotted cream, and would "carve tariff borders across our own country".

"No British prime minister, no government, no parliament could ever accept such an imposition".

During the debate, Labour's shadow business secretary Ed Miliband ridiculed Mr Johnson's previous election catchphrase of "get Brexit done" by warning the bill "gets Brexit undone", adding: "I never thought respecting global law would in my lifetime be a matter of disagreement".

Senior conservative lawmaker Detlef Seif said the British plan to pass legislation that breaks its divorce treaty with the European Union, in a breach of worldwide law, undermined Britain's credibility as a negotiating partner.

But opposition Labour spokesman Ed Miliband ridiculed this suggestion, saying: "Either he wasn't straight with the country about the deal in the first place or he didn't understand it".

All of Britain's living former prime ministers have expressed concern about his plan as have many senior figures in his Conservative Party.

"Because a competent government would never have entered into a binding agreement with provisions it could not live with".

He suggested other colleagues were "holding their fire" until later in the bill's passage, with a group led by ex-minister Sir Bob Neill pressing for a "parliamentary lock" on the government's ability to exercise the powers.

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