Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband trade blows over controversial Brexit Bill

14 September 2020, 18:53 | Updated: 14 September 2020, 19:28

Ed Miliband gave an impassioned response to Boris Johnson's opening statement
Ed Miliband gave an impassioned response to Boris Johnson's opening statement. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband have clashed in the Commons over the proposed UK Internal Market Bill which the Labour MP claimed "gets Brexit undone".

The prime minister opened the debate into the legislation - which has caused controversy as it could break international law - at around 4:30pm by telling MPs it would "guarantee the economic and political integrity of the United Kingdom".

His opening statement was followed by former Labour leader Ed Miliband, who was standing in for his party's leader Sir Keir Starmer who is self-isolating after a member of his family began showing symptoms of coronavirus.

The MP for Doncaster North said debating the Bill was not an argument about "Leave vs Remain" but instead about "Right vs Wrong".

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party's leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, accused Mr Johnson of "a naked power grab" by attempting to push through the law.

Brexit Live: MPs debate on UK Internal Market Bill

Mr Johnson's proposed law would give the UK Government the power to override key parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (WA) that was signed off by the prime minister and ratified by the European Union.

This has caused controversy on both sides of the Channel and has caused some Tory MPs, plus a number of Conservative former prime ministers, to speak out against the proposal.

Speaking in the Commons, the UK leader said British law needs to preserve the arrangement on which "so many jobs and livelihoods depend" as the transition period nears its end.

He said: "That is the fundamental purpose of this Bill, which should be welcomed by everyone who cares about the sovereignty and integrity of our United Kingdom."

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Mr Johnson added: "When we renegotiated our WA from the EU, we struck a careful balance to reflect Northern Ireland's integral place in our United Kingdom, while preserving an open border with Ireland, with the express and paramount aim of protecting the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and the peace process.

"And in good faith, we accepted certain obligations in the Northern Ireland Protocol in order to give our European friends the assurances they sought on the integrity of their single market."

He also described the legislation as "safety net" and an "insurance policy" for the UK, before accusing the EU of going to "extreme and unreasonable lengths" over the Northern Ireland Protocol which he said could lead to "blockading food and agriculture transports within our own country".

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However, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband gave an impassioned response to the prime minister potentially breaking international law.

He said: “If there is one thing we are known for around the world, it is the rule of law. The country of the Magna Carta, the country that is known for having the mother of all parliaments, the country that out of the darkness of the Second World War helped found the United Nations.

“Our global reputation for rule-making, not rule-breaking, is one of the reasons we are so respected around the world.”

Mr Miliband added: "There are two questions at the heart of this Bill and why we'll be opposing it tonight.

"First, how do we get an internal market after January 1 within the UK while upholding the devolution settlements which have been a vital part of our constitution now for two decades and are essential for our union?

"And secondly, is our country going to abide by the rule of law? A rules based international order for which we are famous around the world and have always stood up.

"These are not small questions, but go to the heart of who we are as a country and to the character of this government."

The former Labour leader said he could never have imagined former prime minister David Cameron announcing that the Government would legislate to break international law.

He told the Commons: "I do say to the Prime Minister, while I have been part of many issues of contention across this despatch box, I never thought respecting international law would in my lifetime be a matter of disagreement.

"I stood opposite the Prime Minister's predecessor, David Cameron, as leader of the Opposition for five years. I don't know why he's (Boris Johnson) rolling his eyes.

"I disagreed with him (Mr Cameron) profoundly on many issues but I could never have imagined him coming along and saying we are going to legislate to break international law on an agreement we had signed less than a year earlier as a country, but that is what this Bill does."

Mr Miliband added that it is time for Mr Johnson to "take responsibility".

He said: "For the first time in his life it is time to take responsibility, it is time to fess up.

"Either he wasn't straight with the country about the deal in the first place or he didn't understand it.

"Because a competent government would never have entered into a binding agreement with provisions it could not live with.

"And if such a government somehow missed the point but woke up later it would have done what any competent business would do after it realised it can't live with the terms of a contract, it would negotiate a way out in good faith.

"And that's why this is all so unnecessary - because there is a mechanism designed for exactly this purpose in the agreement, the Joint Committee on the Northern Ireland protocol."

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