David Cameron became the fifth former prime minister to criticize a new bill that attempts to cancel the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
The Internal Market Bill will be presented to MPs later, with the government calling it an “insurance policy”
Mr. Cameron said he had “doubts” about it and breaking an international treaty should be the “final resource”.
Former Conservative premieres Theresa May and Sir John Major, and Labor’s Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have condemned the plan.
Previously, Police Minister Kit Malthouse called it a “practical” step.
It echoed comments Sunday made by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, who said the bill was only there in case the UK and the EU did not agree on a post-Brexit trade deal.
Boris Johnson was supposed to speak to reporters at a later event, but Number 10 confirmed it had been canceled due to urgent parliamentary affairs.
The government is expected to win a vote in the House of Commons later in the next phase of the bill – which is expected to take place around 22:00 BST (21:00 GMT) – but it is also expected to face more difficulties in the later stages, in particularly when legislation is directed to debate in the Lords.
Former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said he will vote against, accusing Johnson of doing “unreasonable” damage to Britain’s international reputation.
A high-level government source told the BBC “all options are on the table” in terms of possible action against Conservative MPs who do not support the bill.
The Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Conservative MP Rehman Chishti, he resigned for the bill, saying: “I have always acted in a way that respects the rule of law … [and] voting in favor of this bill as it stands would be contrary to the values I care about most “.
Even the shadow secretary of labor, Ed Miliband, called the bill “legislative hooliganism”.
On January 31, the UK left the EU, after negotiating and signing the withdrawal agreement with the bloc.
The two sides are now in the final weeks of negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal before the transition period ends on December 31, with informal talks to be held in Brussels this week.
A key part of the Withdrawal Agreement – which is now an international treaty – was the Northern Ireland Protocol, designed to prevent the return of a hard border to the island of Ireland.
The government’s proposed Internal Market Bill would cancel that part of that deal when it came to goods and allow the UK to change or reinterpret the “state aid” rules on business subsidies in Northern Ireland, in case the two parties who do not agree on a future business agreement.
Last week, Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said the bill “would infringe international law” in “a specific and limited way”, leading to swathes of criticism from all sides of the political spectrum.
Here we go again … a Brexit deadline is looming, there is a lot of noise in Westminster and the UK and the EU cannot agree.
And yes, again, there is swirling jargon soup every two sentences.
Take a few steps back, though, and here’s what it all means: how the UK will trade with its closest neighbors from January next year onwards and how the different parts of the UK will trade with each other.
This is important from an economic as well as a political point of view.
The Brexit process has long since highlighted the tensions between the UK and Brussels, but don’t underestimate the tensions it places on the UK as well.
Those in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales who have long claimed to be liberated from London, as they see it, argue that Brexit is the latest case study to illustrate their thesis.
And so the delicate task of the Westminster government is to extricate the UK from one union, the EU, by holding another one, the UK, together.
All these lines have the central goal at their core.
Mr Cameron – who called the EU referendum when he was Prime Minister – said he had “doubts about what is being proposed”.
Speaking to reporters, he said: “Approving an act of Parliament and then breaking an international treaty obligation is the last thing to consider. It should be the absolute final resource.”
Cameron said the “bigger picture” is about trying to get a trade deal with the EU, urging the government to “keep that context [and] that grand prize in mind. “
The comments follow the strongest criticism from the other four surviving former UK prime ministers.
Ms May, who is still a member of the House of Commons, said breaking international law would damage “trust” in the UK, while Brown said it would be akin to “self-harm” for the country.
Sir John and Blair – who were both in office during key periods of the Northern Ireland peace process – wrote a joint article in the Sunday Times accusing Mr Johnson of “embarrassing” the UK and urging MPs to reject the ” shameful “attempt to override parts of the withdrawal agreement.
“Problem to solve”
Mr Malthouse defended the bill, saying it “solves the problem we face” about the future of trade with the EU.
He told BBC Breakfast: “What we have done is to say transparently that this is a situation that we think might occur – certainly this is what the EU is suggesting. It is a problem we need to solve, so here is a bill. which solves it.
“In the end, those who oppose this bill must tell us what the resolution is.”
Justice Secretary Buckland told the BBC on Sunday that he hoped the powers required by ministers would never be needed and that he would step down if the UK ended up breaking international law “in a way I find unacceptable”.
But Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer accused government ministers of distributing “misinformation” over the weekend and “spinning” the reasons they were pursuing the new law.
He told LBC: “[Mr Johnson] he is making a mistake by renouncing a treaty – which will do the UK reputational damage.
“I would say to the prime minister, look, go away, go back to the drawing board, forget about these problems, don’t act in this reckless and wrong way and we will look at the legislation again.”
The bill divided opinions on the Tory backbenches.
Congressman Sir Desmond Swayne said he will support the bill, commending the government for preparedness in case no trade deal is agreed by the end of the year.
He told BBC News: “If the government did not take precautions against this possibility, it would be completely negligent. It is right that it empowers itself just in case.”
But his colleague and chairman of the select committee of justice, Sir Bob Neill, said the government and its supporters must “calm the language.”
He said there was already a mechanism to address the government’s concerns, but he was willing to “satisfy them in half” with an amendment to the bill, allowing only items that would violate international law to be used if Parliament signed it.
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