LONDON (Reuters) – The British House of Commons on Tuesday approved a law giving ministers the power to break their divorce deal with the European Union, despite the threat of legal action from Brussels and unrest within the ruling Conservative Party .
Britain’s Home Market Bill, which ministers admit violates international law, was approved by 340 to 256 votes and is now going to the House of Lords for debate.
The bill aims to protect free trade between the four British countries once the Brexit transition period is over, but has spoiled relations with Brussels as time is running out to strike a deal on their long-term relationship.
After an initial outcry within Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party, including criticism from three former Tory prime ministers, a rebellion was quelled by a concession to give Parliament a say in the use of powers.
The government says clauses in the bill that nullify the withdrawal agreement, signed by Johnson in January, are necessary to protect free trade with Northern Ireland and will only be used if negotiations on a border solution with the EU fail.
The EU, which wants to ensure that Northern Ireland’s open border with Ireland, a member state, does not act as a back door for the entry of goods into the bloc, says it This is an extremely serious violation of the exit treaty and threatened to sue.
The scrutiny in the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, is expected to last until the beginning of December. Johnson does not have a majority, and revisions to the most contentious clauses should have strong support.
But talks with the EU are expected to progress faster, and if an agreement can be reached on an Irish border solution, the powers may not be needed.
If there is no deal, any changes made by the Lords would require the approval of the House of Commons, creating a potential political deadlock.