UK Drops Controversial Clauses from Internal Market Bill

The clauses, which would have broken international law, were removed after reaching an “agreement in principle” with the EU.

The UK government said on Tuesday that it would drop clauses in legislation that breached the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement after reaching a deal with the European Union on future management of the Ireland-Northern Ireland border.

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove announced that he and European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič had come to “agreement in principle on all issues, in particular with regard to the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland”.

The Withdrawal Agreement, which the UK and EU signed in January, included a protocol that would keep Northern Ireland as part of the EU’s single market and customs union at the end of the Brexit transition, which was intended to prevent the return to a hard border with the Republic of Ireland and the possibility of renewed sectarian violence.

The draft Internal Market Bill released by the UK in September contradicted this arrangement by allowing for the UK to make all decisions relating to declarations of goods and customs arrangements in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted at the time that the clauses would break international law “in a specific and limited way”.

While separate to wider trade negotiations, the removal of the controversial Internal Market Bill clauses in the new agreement removes a significant point of contention between the UK and EU. The European Commission had previously issued a legal challenge against the UK over its refusal to alter the legislation, which it called “a breach of the obligation of good faith”.

Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said the organisation was pleased by the government’s U-turn, but added that it should not have been necessary. “We are disappointed that the initiative was ever adopted, but this course of action should demonstrate to all – including our potential trade partners – that Britain holds itself to the rule of law,” she said.

Ongoing trade talks between the UK and EU have yet to find a solution for managing almost $1 trillion of annual trade. The temporary arrangements that currently exist will expire at the end of the year.

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