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Boris Johnson strikes compromise deal with Tory rebels on Brexit - healthyfrog

Boris Johnson strikes compromise deal with Tory rebels on Brexit

Boris Johnson caved in to Tory rebels tonight over his controversial plans to tear up parts of the Brexit divorce deal in breach of international law, agreeing to give MPs more power to prevent it being used.

No10 has agreed to amend the Internal Market Act to give the Commons an effective power of veto to see off a potential defeat when it is next put to a vote on Tuesday.

Mr Johnson was facing a rebel proposal by Justice Select Committee chairman Sir Bob Neill over the plan, which had faced widespread condemnation from a slew of senior former and serving politicians.

Ministers admitted last week the PM’s proposals would break international law, sparking a revolt by Conservative backbenchers. 

Tonight’s move would not prevent international law being broken but means that it would only happen with the agreement of the Commons. 

The PM met with Conservative backbenchers who are concerned about his proposals to override the Withdrawal Agreement in his House of Commons office this afternoon.

This evening, in a joint statement issued by Downing Street and Mr Neill, they confirmed reported that they had agreed a compromise.  

‘This amendment will require the House of Commons to vote for a motion before a minister can use the ”notwithstanding” powers contained in the UK Internal Market Bill,’ they said.

Boris Johnson is said to have reached a compromise agreement with Tory rebels over his Brexit plans 

Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission pictured in Brussels today, warned hopes of the EU striking a 'timely' trade deal with the UK are fading

Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission pictured in Brussels today, warned hopes of the EU striking a ‘timely’ trade deal with the UK are fading

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, is said to have told European ambassadors that Mr Johnson sparked the latest Brexit row in order to distract from the Government's coronavirus chaos

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, is said to have told European ambassadors that Mr Johnson sparked the latest Brexit row in order to distract from the Government’s coronavirus chaos

What does the UK Internal Market Bill do, and how do rebels want to amend it? 

Former minister Bob Neill has tabled a key amendment to the Bill

Former minister Bob Neill has tabled a key amendment to the Bill

The UK Internal Market Bill is intended to be a ‘safety net’ in case the EU tries to impose an ‘extreme’ interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

If Brussels refused to list the UK as a ‘third country’, there would effectively be a blockade on food exports going from the mainland to Northern Ireland. 

In response, the legislation would give ministers powers to override key parts of the divorce terms – bypassing a joint committee that is means to thrash out key issues such as over customs. 

However, critics complain that the move would breach international law – something Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted last week was the case.

The PM insisted Parliament would get a vote if he ever want to invoke the unusual powers – designed to prevent Brussels from ‘blockading’ food exports to NI. But in fact it appears any vote would be ‘affirmative’ – held after the action had been implemented. 

Rebels are gathering behind an amendment from former minister Bob Neill, proposing a ‘Parliamentary lock’ so MPs would need to approve overriding the Withdrawal Agreement before it happens.  

A potential way of buying off some rebels would be to offer a less stringent lock, limiting the scope of ministers to deploy the controversial measures in the Bill while keeping the weapon in the arsenal if the EU refused to budge.

One MP involved in the mutiny told MailOnline that the government did not need to remove the clauses from the legislation altogether, and part of the frustration was that other options, such as the dispute mechanisms in the WA, had not been exhausted. 

‘I don’t think anyone should seriously doubt the need to prepare for these circumstances,’ the MP said. ‘They might only need a caveat saying these clauses would only come into effect after the final ruling of the arbitration panel.’ 

‘The Internal Market Bill was designed to give MPs and Peers a vote on the use of these powers via statutory instrument. 

But following talks, it is agreed that the Parliamentary procedure suggested by some colleagues provides a clearer, more explicit democratic mandate for the use of these powers, and also provides more legal certainty.

‘The Government will table another amendment which sets clear limits on the scope and timeliness of judicial review into the exercise of these powers. This will provide people and businesses with the certainty that they need.

‘We welcome the way the Parliamentary Party has come together on these issue. There is near-unanimous agreement that the Government must be able to use these powers as a final resort, that there must be legal certainty, and that no further amendments are required on these powers.’ 

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson told the Liaison Committee he does not believe Brussels has been negotiating in good faith but he hopes the bloc will ‘prove my suspicions wrong’. 

The rebels want Parliament to have the ability to veto any move by Mr Johnson to override the divorce deal – a so-called ‘parliamentary lock’.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland this morning hinted ministers were prepared to move on the issue. He said he believed the original plans could be made ‘acceptable to all Conservative colleagues’. 

Michael Gove, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, had appeared to open the door to a compromise on Monday when he said the rebels were ‘on to something’.  

It came as Ursula von der Leyen warned hopes of the EU and UK agreeing a trade deal are fading with every passing day as tensions continued to grow over Mr Johnson’s Brexit plans. 

The President of the European Commission hit out and said the accord struck last year ‘cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied’. 

The EU has given Mr Johnson until the end of the month to withdraw his plans, with Brussels warning that a failure to do so risks the total collapse of trade talks.

‘With every day that passes, the chances of a timely agreement do start to fade,’ Ms von der Leyen told the European Parliament this morning.

Her comments came amid claims that Michel Barnier, the EU’s top negotiator, said Mr Johnson had sparked the Brexit row in order to distract from the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. 

He made the comments at a private meeting of European ambassadors on Monday this week, according to Politico.   

The Government sparked a furious row with the EU after it published its UK Internal Market Bill last week.

The legislation will enable the UK to unilaterally make decisions on key issues, like customs arrangements between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, contained within the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland hints at Brexit compromise to appease Tory rebels

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland today hinted the Government could agree to a compromise to see off a Tory rebellion over its Brexit plans. 

An admission by ministers that Boris Johnson’s proposals to override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement would break international law sparked anger on the Conservative backbenches. 

Tory rebels are planning to try to amend the UK Internal Market Bill to give Parliament a veto on any attempt by the Prime Minister to tear up the terms of the Brexit divorce deal. 

But Mr Buckland signalled this morning the Government could move on the issue to prevent a revolt. 

He told the BBC’s Radio 4 programme: ‘I think that the issue is this. We want to make sure that if we hit a situation where we have this sort of dislocation, this sort of crisis if you like, that we can act swiftly to bring in to power the necessary regulations.

‘I think that whilst actually we have got parliamentary procedures to allow secondary legislation to come into force with debate and scrutiny, we have got to get the balance right.

‘We want to make sure that we are fleet of foot when it comes to the crunch but at the same time to make sure that MPs have their say.

‘That is what the Prime Minister wants, that is what he said in parliament and I am sure we will find a way to do that in a manner that is acceptable to all Conservative colleagues.’

Brussels is adamant that the decisions must be made by a joint committee made up of people from both sides – as set out in the treaty.

But the Government argues its proposals are necessary in order to protect the integrity of the UK should the two sides be unable to agree terms. 

Mr Johnson was grilled during an appearance in front of the Liaison Committee over whether he believes the EU has been negotiating in good faith during trade talks. 

He told MPs: ‘We had an opportunity for them to lift this issue of third country listings and they could have said of course, under no circumstances will we blockade, stop agricultural products going from you to us, that is clearly absurd.

‘And yet they have singularly failed to do that.’

Asked again by Labour’s Hilary Benn whether he believes the EU is negotiating in good faith, Mr Johnson replied: ‘I don’t believe they are.’

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis had earlier told the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee that he believed the bloc was negotiating in good faith.

When this was pointed out to Mr Johnson, he replied: ‘It is always possible that I am mistaken and perhaps they will prove my suspicions wrong and perhaps they will agree in the joint committee to withdraw some of the extreme suggestions that I have heard and all will be well.’ 

Ms von der Leyen said this morning that the disagreement was a ‘matter of law and trust and good faith’ as she said the UK could not simply decide to unilaterally ditch parts of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Delivering her State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Brussels this morning, Ms von der Leyen said: ‘This Withdrawal Agreement took three years to negotiate and we worked relentlessly on it line-by-line, word-by-word, and together we succeeded.

‘The European Union and the UK jointly agreed that it was the best and only way for ensuring peace on the island of Ireland and we will never backtrack on that.

‘This agreement has been ratified by this house and the House of Commons. It cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded, disapplied.

‘This is a matter of law and trust and good faith.’

Ms von der Leyen said Margaret Thatcher had always insisted the UK honoured its treaty commitments.

She quoted the former prime minister as saying: ‘Britain does not break treaties. It would be bad for Britain, bad for relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade.’

Mrs von der Leyen added: ‘This was true then and this is true today. Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership.’

The Brexit transition period is due to end in December and trade talks between the two sides remain ongoing. 

However, the latest row has delivered a significant blow to already low hopes of an agreement being reached. 

As well as prompting anger in Brussels, the Government’s plans have also sparked considerable concern among Conservative MPs. 

Tory rebels have put forward an amendment to the legislation which would create a ‘parliamentary lock’ on any attempt by the Government to try to depart from the Brexit divorce deal. 

A vote on the amendment is scheduled to take place next Tuesday but Mr Buckland today suggested the Government could move on the issue in order to stop the rebellion. 

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think that the issue is this. We want to make sure that if we hit a situation where we have this sort of dislocation, this sort of crisis if you like, that we can act swiftly to bring in to power the necessary regulations.

‘I think that whilst actually we have got parliamentary procedures to allow secondary legislation to come into force with debate and scrutiny, we have got to get the balance right.

‘We want to make sure that we are fleet of foot when it comes to the crunch but at the same time to make sure that MPs have their say.

‘That is what the Prime Minister wants, that is what he said in parliament and I am sure we will find a way to do that in a manner that is acceptable to all Conservative colleagues.’ 

Mr Buckland also stressed the provisions within the UK Internal Market Bill which would allow Britain to override the Withdrawal Agreement and breach international law would only be used if the EU breached its Brexit obligations first.

He told Sky News: ‘If we reach that stage, the reason for it is because we judge that sadly, despite everybody’s best efforts, the EU is in a position where we think they are actually breaching their obligations to us.’ 

He said the controversial powers were effectively a ‘break glass in case of emergency provision’ and would only be used in the event that other arbitration mechanisms failed to resolve disagreements between the UK and EU. 

He did not deny that he has held talks with Tory rebel leader Bob Neill, the chairman of the Justice Select Committee. 

‘I don’t think it would be right of me to start talking about private conversations,’ he said. 

The tone of Mr Buckland’s comments was in stark contrast to Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis’s blunt admission last week that the Government’s plans will ‘break international law in a very specific and limited way’.

Mr Lewis joined Mr Buckland in hinting there could be a compromise as he gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee this morning. 

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland today hinted the Government could compromise on its Brexit plans to win over Tory rebels

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland today hinted the Government could compromise on its Brexit plans to win over Tory rebels

Nancy Pelosi

Dominic Raab

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is in Washington today for talks with US counterpart Mike Pompeo and US Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Brexit expected to feature heavily

What happens next in the Brexit process? 

The UK formally left the EU on January 31 this year. 

However, the two sides moved seamlessly into a status quo transition period lasting until December 31. 

This time was set aside to allow Brussels and Britain to hammer out the terms of their future relationship.

Trade talks started in March and the eighth round of formal negotiations concluded last week. 

However, talks are at a standstill amid disagreements on fishing rights and whether the UK will sign up to Brussels’ rules and regulations. 

Downing Street has said it does not want talks to drag into the autumn while the EU wants a deal done by the of October in order to give member states enough time to ratify it before the end of the transition period. 

Given the time constraints and the lack of progress being made both sides now view a deal by the end of the year as unlikely.  

He said debate on the Bill is ‘ongoing’ and it would be ‘wrong of me to presuppose what the outcome will be’. 

Mr Lewis refused to guarantee the Government would abide by decisions made by a UK/EU arbitration panel on disputes as he said it was ‘dangerous’ to get into ‘hypotheticals’. 

The Northern Ireland Secretary also dismissed claims made by Lord Keen of Elie, the Advocate General for Scotland, that Mr Lewis had ‘answered the wrong question’ last week when he said the Bill does break international law. 

Mr Lewis told the Committee: ‘I have spoken to Lord Keen and I have to say… looking at the specific question my honourable friend asked me last week, he agrees the answer I gave was the correct answer.’ 

Lord Keen today resigned from the Government over the PM’s plans.  

It came as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab prepares to meet US Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington to assuage her Brexit concerns. 

The Foreign Secretary is due to meet with Ms Pelosi as well as his US counterpart Mike Pompeo. 

Last week Ms Pelosi warned the UK there would be no trade deal with Washington if Britain undermined the Good Friday Agreement.

She said: ‘If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.’        

Meanwhile, four senior US congressmen, led by chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel, have written to Mr Johnson urging the Government to respect its open border and peace process with Northern Ireland.

The letter, which was also signed by Mr Engel’s fellow Democrats Richard Neal and William Keating as well as Republican Peter King, urged the PM to ‘abandon any and all legally questionable and unfair efforts to flout the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement’.