The House of Lords has voted against measures in the UK’s Internal Market Bill which, Boris Johnson’s government admits, would allow ministers to override the Brexit deal reached with the EU in violation of international law.
The loss was delivered to Johnson and his cabinet as the Lords backed a “regret” amendment, which condemns the controversial provision in the bill, by 395 votes to 169.
The government was “groping for desperate solutions to problems it said would not arise” or would easily be resolved, former Commons speaker Baroness Boothroyd said as she attacked the bill before the vote.
She warned her colleagues that the course set by Johnson may lead to “a legal battle in the Supreme Court and an economic crisis that rivals the 1930s depression.”
Michael Howard, Baron of Lympne, who is a known Brexit backer, pointed out that he wanted Britain to be an independent state, but not one that “chooses, as one of the first assertions of that sovereignty, to break its word, to break the law and to renege on a treaty it signed barely a year ago.”
His namesake, Greville Howard, Baron Howard of Rising, sought to defend the legislation as he dismissed its criticism as “sour grapes from Remainers.” He insisted the bill was essential in helping the UK free itself from “EU control.” However, those arguments weren’t enough to persuade the peers.
The Internal Market Bill, approved by the House of Commons in late September, is set to regulate trade between the four countries that comprise the UK after it exits the European Single Market and European Union Customs Union on January 1, 2021.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis earlier said that the legislation would “break international law in a specific and limited way” as it contradicts the Brexit withdrawal agreement by modifying the way goods are moved, sold, and certified in Northern Ireland.
The government claimed the move was needed to shield Northern Ireland from possible bans on the sale of British food products in case of a no-deal Brexit, which is now a real possibility.
The vote by the peers means that the Internal Market Bill will now return to the House of Commons and is likely to become subject to something of a tug-of-war between the two houses.
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