Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has defended plans to override the EU Withdrawal Agreement as an emergency Brexit ‘insurance policy’.
He told the BBC he hoped the powers ministers sought in the home markets bill would never be needed, as a solution could be found with the EU.
He said he would resign if the UK ended up breaking international law “in a way that I find unacceptable”.
But he clarified that he “did not believe that we will get to this point”.
Labor has indicated they will not support the bill – which MPs will debate for the first time on Monday – unless major changes are made.
Pressure is mounting on Conservative MPs who are skeptical of the legislation to oppose it in the Commons as well, with former prime ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major calling it ‘shameful and embarrassing’.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the EU could not have been “clearer” when the two sides agreed on the Brexit withdrawal agreement last year what it would be like. implications for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
And Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said it was “completely wrong” of the UK to claim that the EU was now interpreting the Withdrawal Agreement in a way that could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom.
Boris Johnson says the European Union is threatening to impose a customs border in the Irish Sea, separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
If the Internal Markets Bill comes into force, it will give UK ministers the power to change or ‘do away with’ the rules on the movement of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland and subsidies Northern Ireland businesses. These rules are to come into effect from January 1, unless the UK and EU are able to strike a trade deal before that date.
The proposed new legislation would change the terms of the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, an essential part of the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement drawn up and agreed to by both sides ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU on January 31. .
‘Break glass in an emergency’
Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Mr Buckland said the government would only invoke the powers of the bill if other solutions could not be found and if the EU continued to act ‘unreasonably’ by insisting on excessive controls of moving goods. across the Irish Sea.
“I believe that with our determination to seek an agreement, we will obtain a position where we do not need to invoke these provisions. This is the planning of insurance, if desired, a broken glass in an emergency provision ”.
He acknowledged that there was a “dichotomy” between the UK’s positions in national and international law, but insisted that he believed these would be resolved.
Pressed to see if he would resign if the UK ended up breaking international law, he replied: ‘If I see the rule of law being violated in a way that I find unacceptable, then of course I will. . We are not at this stage. . ”
He added: “I don’t think we’ll get to this point. I know in my mind what we need to do… We need to resolve any conflict and that’s what we will do. “
But Mr Coveney said the UK would ‘renege’ on its legally binding commitments if the bill passes and rejects claims that the Withdrawal Agreement is a threat to its territorial integrity and the Irish peace process. North.
A new rift has opened between the UK and the EU over the issue of food exports to the continent from January 1, when the current post-Brexit transition period ends.
Mr Barnier said it was not true that the EU was threatening to effectively prevent animal products from crossing the Channel by denying the “third country” license granted to nations outside the bloc.
However, his British counterpart David Frost said the UK had not received any guarantees that trade would continue as it does now.
In a series of messages on Twitter, the Prime Minister’s chief Brexit negotiator suggested that under the arrangements proposed by the EU, British companies risked not being able to export food from the continent to Northern Ireland either.
Although the government has a comfortable majority of 80 in the House of Commons, it faces a rebellion from Conservative backbenchers over the Home Markets Bill, and its passage by the Lords falls far short of ‘be guaranteed.
Labor Brexit spokeswoman Rachel Reeves told the BBC the party could not support the bill “as is” because it will deliberately and knowingly violate international law.
She told the Andrew Marr program that it would be “counterproductive” for the UK to try to strike a free trade deal with the EU and others around the world.
And Liberal Democrats said joining the rule of law appeared to have become “optional” for ministers.
“Robert Buckland has taken an oath to respect the rule of law. It is absolutely appalling to see him shrug his shoulders like this as the Conservative government is about to break him, ”said his justice spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse.