Boris Johnson has said the UK must prepare to breach the Brexit withdrawal agreement in its new bill to stop Brussels from “dividing” the country as another senior Tory has decided to vote against the controversial legislation.
Johnson told MPs today that Brussels was attempting to “blockade” goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in trade negotiations and that the EU was refusing to “take this revolver off the table”.
Northern Ireland will remain in the EU’s customs union from next year, while the rest of the UK will not.
“The EU has said that if we fail to reach an agreement to their satisfaction they might very well refuse to list the UK’s food and agricultural products for sale anywhere in the EU,” he said.
“That would mean Mr Speaker, tariffs that could get as high as 90 per cent by value on Scottish beef going to Northern Ireland moving not from Stranraer to Dublin but from Stranraer to Belfast, within our United Kingdom.”
MPs will have a series of votes over the next week on the Internal Market Bill, which seeks to override parts of the UK’s Brexit withdrawal agreement and therefore break international law.
The bill seeks to ensure that the EU cannot block trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in the case that the UK leaves the EU customs union and single market without a deal on 31 December.
Former chancellor Sajid Javid has today said he would not support the bill as it was “not clear to me why it is necessary for the UK to break international law”.
He joins former attorney general Geoffrey Cox and at least nine other Conservative MPs who have said they will not back the bill.
The Prime Minister said the legislation was only an “insurance policy” in case there was no trade deal reached between the UK and EU, while also promising to give MPs another vote if the measures are needed at the end of the year.
“This bill includes our first step to protect our country against such a contingency by creating a legal safety net taking powers in reserve whereby Ministers can act to guarantee the integrity of our United Kingdom,” he said.
“They are an insurance policy and if we reach agreement with our European friends, which I still believe is possible, they will never be invoked.
“If they were ever needed, ministers would return to this House with a statutory instrument on which a vote would be held.”
Labour shadow business secretary Ed Miliband chastised the government for its bill, saying “I never thought respecting international law would in my lifetime be a matter of disagreement” in parliament.
“A competent government would never have entered into a binding agreement with provisions it could not live with,” he said.
“And if such a government somehow missed the point but woke up later it would have done what any competent business would do after it realised it can’t live with the terms of a contract, it would negotiate a way out in good faith.”