Explained: Why is the UK moving ahead with legislation violating the Brexit treaty?

Called the Internal Market Bill, the UK has attempted to ensure that it will be able to trade freely with its constituent countries, namely, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The European Union (EU) demanded Thursday that the UK should drop its plans of changing the Brexit deal or be prepared for these moves to impact trade discussions between them. It said the UK had “seriously damaged trust” by publishing a bill to amend clauses within the agreement it had signed in January this year. The Boris Johnson government also acknowledged that such moves would potentially also be in violation of international law.

What is this bill?

Called the Internal Market Bill, the UK has attempted to ensure that it will be able to trade freely with its constituent countries, namely, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. To do this, however, the UK government has said it would need to violate a part of its agreement with the EU.

That means that if goods were being transported from Northern Ireland to Great Britain for instance, it would not require additional checks. The BBC reported: “It gives UK ministers powers to modify or “disapply” rules relating to the movement of goods that will come into force from 1 January, if the UK and EU are unable to strike a trade deal.”

How has the EU responded to this bill?

In response to these plans, the EU has said it will consider legal action against the UK for violating what is an international treaty. BBC reported cabinet minister Michael Gove saying that the UK had made it “perfectly clear” that it would not back down. The BBC also said that the UK government’s stance was that the country’s Parliament is sovereign and was authorised to “pass laws which breach the UK’s international treaty obligations”.

David Frost, the UK chief negotiator, had said that there were “significant differences” over a free trade deal which would be discussed in further negotiations in the coming week, the BBC further reported.

Observers believe that it is unlikely that trade talks will proceed if the UK does not back down, because the EU’s statement regarding the UK’s unilateral moves in context of this legislation has angered Brussels. At the same time, observers believe that the UK is unlikely to concede in any significant way despite the opposition it is facing from the EU.

What is next?

The Reuters reported that this bill must pass through the UK’s House of Commons and then the House of Lords, the upper chamber, to become a law. However, given that Boris Johnson’s government doesn’t have a majority like it does in the House of Commons, it is unlikely that lawmakers will make a decision in favour of Johnson.

The debate concerning this bill will begin on Monday in the House of Commons. Reuters reported that although the bill has been unpopular in the House of Lords, including among conservative members, it is unlikely that it will be entirely blocked, in part because that isn’t their role.

A more plausible scenario would be one where the House of Lords would “amend and improve legislation”. After the House of Lords is done with the bill, it will be sent back to the House of Commons.

The Indian Express
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