MPs vote to reinstate controversial parts of Internal Market Bill
MPs have voted to reinstate the controversial, international law-breaking parts of the UK Internal Market Bill that were stripped out by the House of Lords.
The move means the draft legislation will now be sent back to the upper house, starting a “ping pong” in which neither side backs down on the proposed amendments.
Peers in the House of Lords can now accept the UK Government’s changes, re-table the amendments or delay by up to a year – provided a deal with the EU doesn’t come first.
The government is understood to have reinserted the clauses into the bill which sparked the row with Brussels, and saw the UK admonished by US president-elect Joe Biden, as a back-up in case a deal is not made before the end of the transition period.
Ministers have argued that the changes are necessary to uphold free trade within the United Kingdom, although critics claim it will put the Good Friday Agreement at risk.
Earlier on Monday, however, the government revealed it is willing to drop the parts of the Internal Market Bill which a minister admitted would break international law if a Brexit deal can be agreed.
The timing of the reinsertion of the clauses had been expected to cause further complications to the knife-edge talks between lead negotiators Lord Frost and Michel Barnier in Brussels on Monday.
The EU side has suggested it is unwilling to sign off on a deal while the Internal Market Bill still allows the UK to breach aspects of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
But just a few hours before the debate in parliament got underway a statement was published on the GOV.UK website with an update on the bill in the light of the ongoing negotiations.
It said: “Discussions continue to progress and final decisions are expected in the coming days.
“If the solutions being considered in those discussions are agreed, the UK Government would be prepared to remove clause 44 of the UK Internal Market Bill, concerning export declarations.
“The UK Government would also be prepared to deactivate clauses 45 and 47, concerning state aid, such that they could be used only when consistent with the United Kingdom’s rights and obligations under international law.”
It also said “good progress continues to be made regarding the decision as to which goods are ‘at risk’ of entering the EU market”, one of the key issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The clauses in question are also expected to appear in an accompanying finance bill, but the statement added that in the light of the ongoing discussions “the government will keep under review the content of the forthcoming Taxation Bill”, hinting they will dropped from that legislation too.
Commenting on the vote, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “The UK Government’s decision to ignore the Lords’ amendments and reinsert law-breaking and devolution-damaging clauses to the bill highlights the sheer contempt this Tory government has for democracy and the rule of law.
“It speaks volumes that the Tories have chosen to bring back law-breaking clauses at such a critical moment in talks with our EU partners.
“This bill is nothing short of a brazen power grab which will undermine devolution and override the democratic decisions of the devolved parliaments.
“On the international stage, it demonstrates the Tories will trample over international law with their Trump-esque tactics in order to put their narrow party interests first, second and last.
“The SNP has been consistently clear – this bill must be ditched. It is an affront to democracy and does nothing but isolate the UK further.
“Scotland can do so much better than an out-of-touch Westminster system acting against our interests. The only way to protect our interests is by becoming an independent country.”