A number of constituents have written to demand that I vote against the provisions of the UK internal Markets bill because it breaks International law -even the minister admitted that in the Commons.
The bill is about a great deal more than our treaty obligations in respect of the Northern Ireland protocol under the EU withdrawal agreement, with which only a few of its clauses are concerned.
The bill cannot break UK law because Parliament makes the law!
Furthermore, the Withdrawal Agreement only has the force of law because Parliament passed it into law. In the Act with which we did so, we included a clause making it clear that we could change it we needed to. Therefore, the Markets Bill no more breaks the Withdrawal Agreement than the Withdrawal Act itself did.
The provisions affecting Northern Ireland in the bill are a response to threat by EU negotiators that they would use the Joint Committee set up under the protocol to effectively exclude UK produce from Northern Ireland if we did not concede vital ground in our negotiations with them on a free trade deal.
So, the provisions of the bill are precautionary: they give ministers power to act in certain circumstances. The objective remains to avoid those circumstances and therefore, not to have to implement the provisions of the bill. The bill of itself does not breach any international obligation.
The Northern Ireland protocol is predicated on the existence of a free trade deal between the EU and the UK. Without one the provisions become unworkable.
The Government made a manifesto commitment to UK voters to ensure that there was unfettered market access between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Let us assume that the worst case comes about, that there is no EU trade deal and that the Government has to use the provisions set out in this bill to make the arrangements workable.
In that circumstance would we have breached our international treaty obligations in respect of the Withdrawal Agreement?
I think not.
In that respect I believe that the minister was wrong in what he said in the Commons when he agreed that it would compromise the obligation even if in a very minor technical way. I say it wouldn’t.
Article 184 binds the EU and the UK in good faith and using their best endeavours negotiate expeditiously to implement the future relationship set out in the Political Declaration.
Both sides have effectively accused the other of already beaching that binding obligation.
Failure to agree would be the proof of this. It follows that, the parties having breached the fundamental obligation underpinning the Agreement, then the Agreement is void: the Treaty is abrogated. We would have no further binding international obligation.
Would this adversely affect our international reputation?
Would other countries trust us in making future binding agreements?
Our trading partners are not blind. They can see that is a unique circumstance. They have had their own dealings with EU negotiators, and they know what is going on.
To compare the provisions of this bill with China’s abrogation of the Sino-British agreement over Hong Kong, as some parliamentarians have done, is ridiculous and grotesque. It reveals the bankruptcy of their argument.