UK bill to override Brexit agreement would break international law should negotiations fail, officials say

UK and EU officials are to begin the eighth round of Brexit negotiations in London

United Kingdom government ministers on Wednesday published a draft version of the controversial “Internal Market Bill,” which admittedly in practice would break international law by overriding parts of Brexit’s withdrawal agreement from the European Union.

“The Withdrawal Agreement was concluded and ratified by both sides, it has to be applied in full,” President of the European Council Charles Michel said in a statement. “Breaking international law is not acceptable and does not create the confidence we need to build our future relationship.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the age-old diplomatic cornerstone of “agreements must be kept” was “the foundation of prosperous future relations.”

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But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the Internal Market Bill, claiming it would "ensure the integrity of the UK internal market" and ensure there are no barriers to trade within the U.K. after the country leaves the European Union’s economic framework at the end of the year, the BBC reported.

EU Chief negotiator Michel Barnier, left, arrives at St. Pancras international train station in London, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. UK and EU officials begin the eighth round of Brexit negotiations in London. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

EU Chief negotiator Michel Barnier, left, arrives at St. Pancras international train station in London, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. UK and EU officials begin the eighth round of Brexit negotiations in London. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

The bill outlines a “safety net” of rules for trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to prevent disruption to the internal U.K. market in the event that the U.K. and the EU do not reach an agreement by the end of 2020. It proposes no new checks on goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the U.K. and gives U.K. ministers the powers to “disapply” rules relating to the movement of goods that will come into effect Jan. 1, 2021, if a Brexit deal fails, according to the BBC.

The legislation explicitly states: "Certain provisions to have effect notwithstanding inconsistency or incompatibility with international or other domestic law," according to Sky News.

Though the U.K. left the bloc on Jan. 31, the country is in a transition period that effectively sees it abide by EU rules until the end of 2020. But both sides have so far failed to reach a consensus regarding competition rules and fishing rights, and Johnson said Britain will walk away from negotiations if there is no agreement by Oct. 15. Johnson also argued the Internal Market Bill would hand powers from Brussels back to Wales and Scotland and protect the Northern Ireland peace process.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a press statement at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. The European Union's executive commission has proposed European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis to take over the post of EU trade commissioner following the resignation of Ireland's Phil Hogan. (Aris Oikonomou, Pool Photo via AP)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a press statement at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. The European Union's executive commission has proposed European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis to take over the post of EU trade commissioner following the resignation of Ireland's Phil Hogan. (Aris Oikonomou, Pool Photo via AP)

EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said that even for a bloc that has international agreements with countless countries and organizations, it would be “an unprecedented situation" if the Internal Market Bill went into effect in the U.K.

“The withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation and that we expect that the letter and the spirit of the withdrawal agreement will be fully respected," he said.

The withdrawal agreement, which has already been signed and ratified, includes measures to ensure there are no barriers to trade or travel between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and EU member the Republic of Ireland. To do that, Britain had agreed that Northern Ireland will continue to follow some EU rules even after the rest of the U.K. goes it is own way. That means there will be checks on some goods moving from the rest of the U.K. to Northern Ireland, with tariffs applied on any that are headed for the EU.

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“Any negotiation process can only proceed on the basis of trust,” Irish Prime Minister, or Taoiseach, Micheál Martin tweeted Wednesday. “When one party to a negotiation decides that they can change what’s already agreed and incorporated into law, it really undermines trust. This is a critical time in the #Brexit process and the stakes are very high.”