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Second reading of Internal Market Bill passes in the Commons

4 min read
14 September 2020 | UK NEWS

MPs have voted in support of the Government’s controversial Internal Market Bill by 340 votes to 263, giving the Government a majority of 77 in the House of Commons for this legislation.

The results of the vote were announced shortly after 10:30pm. The Bill will now pass to the committee stage, before moving on to the House of Lords.

The vote comes following a fierce debate in the Commons today, during which Ed Miliband, a former Labour Party leader, made an impassioned speech in opposition to the Bill, parts of which were directed specifically at the Prime Minister.

Mr Miliband heavily implied that Boris Johnson had not read, or fully understood, either the Withdrawal Agreement itself or the legislation he now proposes to modify certain elements of it.

Mr Miliband rebukes the Prime Minister

But the conservative commentator Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in The Telegraph yesterday in anticipation of tonight’s vote, said that it is “too glib by half to say that Boris Johnson signed up to the Agreement and therefore that it is his own fault”.

Calling the EU itself “a practised abuser of international law”, he went on to write: “The EU has systematically refused to comply with the judgments of the World Trade Organisation, flouting rulings on GMO crops, hormone beef, and Airbus subsidies, as if the matter were optional.

“It has repudiated the doctrine of legal supremacy and “direct effect”, the very doctrine that the EU now asserts in the Withdrawal Agreement.  

“It has eroded direct effect in a series of cases, culminating in Portugal v Council where the European Court ruled that the EU has no obligation to follow WTO law if it narrows the European Commission’s scope for manoeuvre. How delicious.”

Writing in The Telegraph on Saturday, former Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan cited the following clause from Article 16 of the Withdrawal Agreement:

“If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures.”

He went on to say: “It is more honest of the British Government to preannounce those safeguard measures now.

“In the circumstances, the changes being flagged up are stunningly modest. Given the EU’s refusal to engage seriously in trade talks, the whole basis of the Withdrawal Agreement ought to be void.”

However, Annex 7 of that part of the WA states that any such disputes are to be resolved by referral to the Joint Committee that was established under the terms of the international treaty for these purposes.

The political gossip website Guido Fawkes gathered rumours earlier today that as many as 17 Conservative MPs were considering voting against the Bill. At the time of writing, the full voting record has yet to be published.

Mr Johnson’s immediate predecessor as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister, Theresa May, was reportedly not among the rebels tonight, although she had earlier expressed concerns about the nature of the Bill.

Over the weekend, former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major also expressed their disquiet as to the Bill’s potential to constitute a violation of international law, were some of its measures to be acted upon.

And Rehman Chishti resigned his post as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief earlier today, after a year and two days in the job, over the issue.

But Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, summed up the Government’s view of its intentions in bringing the Internal Market Bill before Parliament at the close of tonight’s debate, saying that it “protects, strengthens and enhances our union”.

He added: “The idea that we’re abandoning [the Withdrawal Agreement] is simply for the birds.”

The Prime Minister wrote himself in The Telegraph on Saturday to outline the Government’s case for this legislation, saying: “In forging our new relationships, we can’t have our lives or our economy regulated by the European Court; we must have the right to devise our own laws and regulations.

“And we must have sole control of our spectacular marine wealth – our fisheries.”

Mr Johnson continued: “So I have become anxious in the last few weeks to discover that there is an obstacle. Our negotiators believe that there may be a serious misunderstanding about the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement that we reached last October.

“We are being told that the EU will not only impose tariffs on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but that they might actually stop the transport of food products from GB to NI.

“I have to say that we never seriously believed that the EU would be willing to use a treaty, negotiated in good faith, to blockade one part of the UK, to cut it off, or that they would actually threaten to destroy the economic and territorial integrity of the UK.”

The Bill will now be discussed at committee stage in Parliament between tomorrow and next Tuesday, 22 September.

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