Sunday 13 September 2020 12:12 pm

Tony Blair and Sir John Major urge government to drop plans to breach Brexit deal

Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major have warned that the government will ruin the UK’s international reputation if it goes ahead with its plan to breach the Brexit withdrawal agreement and break international law.

The former adversaries said Boris Johnson’s plan “is shaming itself and embarrassing our nation”, and that his actions will “imperil” the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement.

Read more: Brexit: EU threatens legal action against UK after ‘seriously damaging trust’

The government’s Internal Market 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

However, it is also a breach of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, as negotiated by Johnson, as it overrides clauses pertaining to Northern Ireland.

Before the Open newsletter: Start your day with the City View podcast and key market data

Justice secretary Robert Buckland told the BBC today that it was “an insurance policy” in case no trade deal is struck with the EU and that he did not expect that it would come into play.

Nevertheless, Brussels is demanding Johnson drops the legislation by the end of the month or else it will break off trade negotiations with the UK.

Major and Blair wrote in the Sunday Times that the UK would be unable to sign free trade agreements with third parties if it flagrantly breaks international law.

The pair wrote: “If the government succeeds in its plans, what constitutional audacity will be beyond it?

“If parliament deliberately passes legislation known to undermine international law, what will that do to the reputation of parliament and our nation?

“As the world looks on aghast at the UK — the word of which was once accepted as inviolable — this government’s action is shaming itself and embarrassing our nation.”

Members of the government have admitted that the bill would break international law, with Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis telling MPs that it would only be “in a specific and limited way”.

British attorney general Suella Braverman released a statement about the government’s actions today, which conceded that the terms of its new bill “may be exercised in a way that is incompatible with provisions of the withdrawal agreement”.

Read more: No-deal Brexit would hurt UK more than EU, says German finance minister

“It is an established principle of international law that a state is obliged to discharge its treaty obligations in good faith,” she said.

“This is, and will remain, the key principle in informing the UK’s approach to international relations.”