Former prime ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major have urged parliament to reject Boris Johnson’s “shameful” attempt to cancel parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
The Prime Minister said that the European Union threatens to impose a customs border in the Irish Sea, separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Mr Blair and Sir John accused the government of “embarrassing” the UK.
The law on the internal market will be discussed in the House of Commons on Monday.
The bill would go against the withdrawal agreement signed by the UK and the EU.
Take on the Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement designed to prevent a difficult border from returning to the island of Ireland.
If the bill becomes law, it would give UK ministers the power to change or “disapply” the rules relating to the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland which come into effect on 1 January if the UK and the EU will not be able to conclude a trade deal.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Sir John and Blair – former Conservative and Labor prime ministers respectively – said the government’s actions were “irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice”.
“It raises questions that go far beyond the impact on Ireland, the peace process and negotiations for a trade deal – crucial as they are. It questions the very integrity of our nation,” they said.
Former leaders said compliance with treaty obligations was “just as important” as domestic law and called on parliamentarians to reject the legislation.
“As the world looks in horror at the UK – whose word was once accepted as inviolable – this government’s action is ashamed and embarrassed our nation,” they added.
By Leila Nathoo, political correspondent
Tony Blair and Sir John Major say Boris Johnson knew all the consequences of the Brexit divorce deal he concluded with Brussels last year – that new barriers to trade would arise between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
They say the government’s plans to ignore parts of the deal now would jeopardize the Good Friday deal, undermine the UK’s credibility in future trade deals and could result in damaging retaliation from the EU.
They accuse ministers of embarrassing the UK by negotiating with what they call “a contemptuous exaggeration that poses as serious diplomacy” – an approach they say challenges the very integrity of the nation.
However, their intervention is unlikely to affect Mr. Johnson, who insisted that the Internal Market bill is a necessary safety net to protect the union and the peace process – and has defied the demands of the EU to withdraw the disputed clauses before the end of the month.
The prime minister has called on parliamentarians to support the legislation: his predecessors say it is the parliament’s job to prevent his plan from going further.
The prime minister urged Conservative lawmakers Friday to support the bill during a Zoom call, following concerns about its proposals.
The EU has warned the UK that it could face legal action if it does not abandon the controversial elements of the internal market bill by the end of the month.
Ministers tried to defend the government’s plans, with Cabinet Minister Michael Gove saying the proposals were a means of protecting the UK’s “integrity”.
And Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted that the bill would violate international law, but “in a very specific and limited way”.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer has accused the prime minister of “rekindling old ranks” by working to cancel his own withdrawal agreement.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the Labor leader said his party could support the internal market bill if the government addresses “the substantial inter-party concerns that have been raised.”
But to win Labor support, the bill would no longer have to risk violating international law and addressing devolved administrations’ concerns of a “takeover”.
“We should continue to defeat this virus, not talk about Europe,” Sir Keir said. “Go ahead with Brexit and defeat the virus. This should be the government’s mantra.”
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