Former European Parliament President and Vice-President condemn UK’s current Brexit stance

The attack on Wednesday by Pat Cox and Edward McMillan-Scott, comes on the day the British government publishes plans for policing trade between different parts of the country from 2021.
European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

09 Sep 2020

The Internal Market Bill sets out how powers currently held by the EU will be shared out after the post-Brexit transition period ends, but it has prompted a row over elements which could allow ministers to modify the UK's exit agreement.

The UK government, however, has admitted that the legislation breaks international law.

With this week’s eighth round of talks continuing in London, Pat Cox, President of Parliament from 2002-2004, told this website, “In my view, Brexit has been driven more by identity politics than interests from the outset.”

The former Irish Liberal MEP said, “Whether its [the UK’s] renewed assertion at this late stage is tactical or strategic I do not know. If tactical - it needs a big row - lots of drama and enough cynicism to cover some big climb downs at the end in order to present the final outcome as victory snatched from the jaws of defeat by ‘brilliant statesmanship’.”

“If it is strategic, the game is up, subject only to the passage of time. Either way, the outcome will be a pale shadow of today's open and easy trade relations UK/EU. From an Irish perspective the choices seem to lie between bad and worse.”

“The outcome will be a pale shadow of today's open and easy trade relations. From an Irish perspective the choices seem to lie between bad and worse” Pat Cox, former European Parliament President

Further comment came from Edward McMillan-Scott, a former Vice-President of Parliament from 2004 to 2014, who told The Parliament Magazine, “My friend, lawyer Bob Neill, chair of the House of Commons Justice Committee, showed his shock at the admission by the Northern Ireland Minister Brandon Lewis that the UK is about to break international law in a ‘specific and limited breach’.”

“This is typical of the extremist behaviour of the Boris Johnson government in defence of their Brexit obsession.”

McMillan-Scott, a former leader of the UK Tory delegation, said, “It also puts at risk the peace which Ireland has enjoyed for some 20 years.”

Separately, Luxembourg EPP MEP Christophe Hansen, a member of Parliament’s UK Coordination Group, on the legislation being introduced on Wednesday, said, “If we are to interpret these declarations as meaning that the UK government has now full-on decided that no deal serves them best, then they should clearly state so.”

Otherwise, for the UK, he said, “it is high time to stop the posturing, stop undermining the climate of trust so needed for success and get down to work.”

“This is typical of the extremist behaviour of the Boris Johnson government in defence of their Brexit obsession. It also puts at risk the peace which Ireland has enjoyed for some 20 years” Edward McMillan-Scott, a former Vice-President of Parliament

Denis MacShane, a former Europe Minister in the UK, said, “The Withdrawal Agreement (WA) has several paragraphs on how to resolve any disputes over interpreting it. The key one, it seems to me, is article 174 of the WA which states that in the event of a dispute an arbitration panel ‘shall request the ECJ to give a ruling on the question. The Court of Justice of the European Union shall have jurisdiction to give such a ruling which shall be binding on the arbitration panel’.”

He adds, “If invoked and unless Boris Johnson does not repudiate the entire Withdrawal Agreement, which is the nuclear option, it means the current row can be parked for a while. Johnson has to get through his party conference early next month and evaluate how many Tory MPs would revolt and vote against him if a compromise deal was on offer at the end of the Barnier-Frost talks.”

“I would assume it is in the EU’s interests to ensure that any collapse of the talks is a decision and responsibility of Johnson and the UK. I would also assume Sir Keir Starmer, while condemning the idea of the UK breaking the law, will keep a distance to make this a Tory party problem.”

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, UK Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted the bill would break international law in a “very specific and limited way” but former British Prime Minister Theresa May asked, “How can the government reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs?”

The bill has also prompted a fresh row with the Scottish government, with Scottish Constitution Secretary Michael Russell saying ministers would find it “impossible” to recommend the Scottish Parliament gives its consent to the bill.

“I would assume it is in the EU’s interests to ensure that any collapse of the talks is a decision and responsibility of Johnson and the UK. I would also assume Sir Keir Starmer, while condemning the idea of the UK breaking the law, will keep a distance to make this a Tory party problem” Denis MacShane, former UK Europe Minister

The UK government, however, says it remains fully committed to the Withdrawal Agreement, and the bill is a necessary step to avoid a legal void if these talks fail.

The UK left the EU on 31 January and is now in what is called a transitional phase until the end of the year.

If no deal is agreed by the two sides the UK will finally exit the EU on 31 December on WTO terms.

More concern has been voiced by the British Meat Processors Association, whose CEO Nick Allen said, “Despite reassurances from our PM last week that ‘we’re ready for any eventuality’, the reality is that many key issues remain unresolved.”

“Brexit contingency preparations are proceeding at a snail’s pace and the UK Government’s ‘Brexit Report Card’ to date reveals some glaring weaknesses in an export system that is about to become massively overloaded.”

Allen added, “Unless a number of key issues are urgently addressed, £1.2 billion of annual meat exports will be at risk along with thousands of jobs in the meat and livestock sector.”

He adds, “We have lost patience and are calling publicly for the government to step up the pace and solve these issues before it is too late. With less than four months to go, Britain has a woeful lack of infrastructure and people to operate the new export system which if not addressed, will result in massive delays, extra cost and lost orders.”

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