UK admits planned Brexit deal change ‘breaks international law’
A British government minister admitted Tuesday that plans not to apply parts of the European Union divorce deal relating to Northern Ireland break international law, but only in “tightly defined circumstances”.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis was speaking in parliament about legislation due to be published on Wednesday that will include attempts to “clarify” how last year’s Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels is implemented.
Details of the proposals have caused concern among EU leaders, just as Brexit trade talks resumed, and calls for London to honour its international treaty commitments.
Lewis insisted Britain was “fully committed” to implementing the protocol on Northern Ireland, which would see the province continue to follow certain EU rules in order to keep its land border open with the Republic of Ireland.
But he said the new bill would create a “safety net” to ensure goods could move tariff-free within the United Kingdom — including Northern Ireland — and ensure that while EU state aid rules will apply in the province, they will not apply on the mainland — England, Scotland and Wales.
A fellow Conservative MP, Bob Neill, questioned whether anything in the proposed UK Internal Market Bill might breach Britain’s international legal obligations.
“I would say to my honourable friend that yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way,” Lewis replied.
“We are taking the power to disapply the EU law concept of direct effect required by Article 4 in a certain, very tightly defined circumstances.”
Article 4 of the Northern Ireland Protocol states how it will remain part of the UK’s customs territory after Brexit.
Lewis said: “There are clear precedents for the UK and indeed other countries needing to consider their international obligations as circumstances change.”
He cited a finance act in 2013 that contained provisions that “expressly disapply international tax treaties” where they allow abusive arrangements.
Lewis said Britain would seek to resolve any issues with the EU agreement through mutually agreed mechanisms.
“The clauses that will be in the bill tomorrow are specifically there so should that fail, to ensure we are able to deliver on our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.
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