The upper house of the UK parliament on Tuesday rejected an Internal Market bill that “broke the law” and inflicted a symbolic defeat on the government of the Brexit law.
It happened after Britain changed the provisions in the bill after which it became a point of dispute with the European Union and thus, exacerbated relations between the two.
The government’s internal market bill is designed to regulate trade among the country’s four constituent nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, after Brexit.
But it unilaterally rewrote the divorce agreement Britain made with the European Union last year, prompting legal action from the 27-nation bloc.
The bill has passed the stronger House of Commons but in the House of Lords, colleagues including the Anglican archbishop voted by a 226 majority to express their “regret” over provisions that violated the agreement.
While the vote didn’t change the language of the bill, it did set the stage for detailed scrutiny by the rulers in the coming weeks. Many wanted to remove those elements, sparking a legislative dispute with the Commons before the bill became law.
Michael Howard, a former ruling Conservative leader and leading Brexiteer, was among his fellow dissidents who voted against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.
“I want Britain to be an independent and sovereign country,” Howard said during the debate.
“But I want it to be an independent sovereign state that upholds the world, that keeps its promises, that upholds the rule of law, that respects its treaty obligations.”
While Boris Johnson believes the previous provisions in the bill are a “safety net” against what he claims are the EU threat to impose tariffs on UK internal trade and even stop shipments of food from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland, the proposed legislation has established upset the Europeans who have launched a legal case against the country.
The government believes the law is necessary to prevent a split in the UK’s internal market once it is freed from EU rule in 2021, particularly in regards to Northern Ireland.
But the region, which has a troubled history, is meant to enjoy special post-Brexit status after consulting Brussels because it borders Ireland, a member of the EU, and the bloc has initiated legal action on the bill.
Tuesday’s vote comes with Britain and the European Union also stuck in a deadlock over protracted talks about their future trade relationship starting next year, and threats of a “no-deal” split are looming.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier again urged Britain to use the little time left to reach a trade deal, but London still refuses to restart talks until Brussels promises to make concessions.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson telephoned some 250 business leaders to urge them to prepare adequately for the end of the transition period on December 31.
“It is imperative that everyone on this call takes seriously the need to be prepared, because no matter what happens … change will happen,” he told them, according to his office.
Johnson reportedly told leaders that the coronavirus crisis has created “too much apathy in business” to get ready for life outside the EU in what one of the attendees described as a lecture.
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