Former PMs unite against Boris Johnson's Brexit legislation

12 September 2020, 19:13 | Updated: 13 September 2020, 08:20

Sir John Major (L) and Tony Blair (R) have united against Boris Johnson's Brexit legislation
Sir John Major (L) and Tony Blair (R) have united against Boris Johnson's Brexit legislation. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Former prime ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major have united against Boris Johnson's Brexit bill, saying it threatens the Good Friday Agreement and future trade negotiations.

The two former UK leaders, who used to sit opposite each other in the House of Commons, said the current prime minister's legislation imperils the Irish peace process, trade negotiations with both the EU and other countries, and the UK's integrity on the international stage.

Mr Blair and Mr Major said the bill would make talks with the bloc of 27 countries "more difficult" and would undermine trust in Britain.

They accused Mr Johnson of pursuing "ideology and cavalier bombast posing as serious diplomacy", adding that the legislation is "irresponsible" and "dangerous".

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Former Justice Secretary David Gauke told LBC that what is being proposed undermines the credibility of “global Britain”.

He told Andrew Castle that he thinks the former PMs’ remarks were “justified.”

“It’s strong words from John Major and Tony Blair.

"They [the government] are now finding that the concessions they made in the negotiations that enabled a deal to be reached are uncomfortable for them.

“They are trying to renege on that. If that is the approach a country takes to negotiations why should other countries ever believe them in future?”

Writing in The Sunday Times, the former Labour and Conservative leaders said: "It puts the Good Friday Agreement at risk, because it negates the predictability, political stability and legal clarity that are integral to the delicate balance between the north and south of Ireland that is at the core of the peace process.

"This has wide-ranging ramifications. It will not only make negotiation with the EU more difficult, but also any trade negotiations with other nations, including the United States. Once trust is undermined, distrust becomes prevalent.

"We both opposed Brexit. We both accept it is now happening. But this way of negotiating, with reason cast aside in pursuit of ideology and cavalier bombast posing as serious diplomacy, is irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice.

"It raises questions that go far beyond the impact on Ireland, the peace process and negotiations for a trade deal - crucial though they are. It questions the very integrity of our nation."

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It comes while senior Conservatives are still expressing anger at Mr Johnson’s controversial legislation, despite attempts from the prime minister and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove to win them over.

Mr Johnson is looking to win support for his bill, which overrides parts of the divorce deal he signed with the European Union in December.

However, some senior Tories have argued the legislation breaches international law - something the government has conceded - and hence threatens Britain's reputation in the world.

Despite the Prime Minister holding a conference call with his MPs and Mr Gove warning the bill is needed to protect the ”integrity of the UK”, rebels continue to voice their opposition to the move.

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the Commons defence committee, said on Saturday that "unamended I cannot support this Bill".

"Already this Bill is damaging brand UK, diminishing our role-model status as defender of global standards. As we go to the wire, let's see more British statecraft - less Nixonian Madman Theory," he tweeted.

Meanwhile, Commons justice committee chairman Sir Bob Neill, who has tabled an amendment which he said would impose a "parliamentary lock" on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, said he still believes it contains "objectionable" elements.

"I believe it is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward," Sir Bob told Channel 4 News.

Mr Johnson “set out his case but it hasn't changed anything that I think. I'm confident that our amendment is still getting support," he said.

Sir Roger Gale also remains a strong critic, telling reporters: "If anybody is responsible, if it happens, for bringing the union down, it will be [chief aide Dominic] Cummings and Mr Johnson."