Theresa May criticises Brexit bill and claims it could split the UK

21 September 2020, 20:30 | Updated: 21 September 2020, 23:05

Theresa May has slammed the contents of the Government Internal Market Bill
Theresa May has slammed the contents of the Government Internal Market Bill. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Theresa May has criticised the Government's intention to break international law and warned Northern Ireland could split from the UK as a result.

The former Prime Minister, who struck the deal with the EU last year, said she "could not emphasise" how concerned she was that her party's leadership were willing to "go back on its word" on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

She expressed deep concerns over the impact such a move would have on the Good Friday Agreement - the peace deal that ended conflict between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland - and warned it would have a "consequence on the willingness" of people there to remain part of the United Kingdom.

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She told MPs on Monday: "I believe that this Government's willingness to abandon an international agreement it has signed will lead to some questioning about the willingness of the Government to fully uphold the Good Friday Agreement.

"That in turn will lead to some communities having less willingness to trust the United Kingdom Government and that could have a consequence on the willingness of people in Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom."

It follow a string of resignations from senior civil servants and Government officials, as well as former Prime Ministers.

The intervention means all five living former leaders - Theresa May, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major - have signalled their discontent with the plans.

The Government claims its proposed Brexit bill - or Internal Markets Bill - will protect the UK if the EU decides to act in bad faith and block goods moving freely between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

MPs have spent Monday debating the bill ahead of a third vote.

SNP Westminster deputy leader Kirsten Oswald described the Bill as "ill-conceived, confused and very damaging".

She told the Commons: "This Internal Market Bill is a grubby power grab which we cannot and will not support, and this section as it stands will hang like a badge of dishonour around this Prime Minister's term of office, however long or short that might be."

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Northern Ireland Minister, Robin Walker, defended the Bill and said it would "uphold" the Conservative Party manifesto at the 2019 general election.

He told MPs: "Through this Bill we are acting to uphold those priorities and deliver commitments we made in our election manifesto that we will provide unfettered access between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market."