Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to Downing Street from the Foreign Office on Tuesday. (Photo: Xinhua)
Proposed legislation would enable 2019 departure deal to be amended
With negotiations for a free-trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union continuing in London, the British government has unveiled proposed legislation that sets out how former EU powers could be shared within the UK in a post-Brexit world.
The Internal Market Bill details how trade should be conducted between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales after the UK stops following EU rules at the end of the transitional period on Dec 31.
The bill includes provision for ministers to amend the exit agreement London signed with Brussels last year, a power that this week triggered the resignation of Jonathan Jones as permanent secretary to the Government Legal Department, a role in which he served as the government's most senior lawyer.
The BBC said Jones stood down because he felt the bill went too far "in breaching the government's obligations under international law".
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis agreed in the House of Commons on Tuesday that the bill does indeed allow international law to be broken, but said it would only be done in a "very specific and limited way", if negotiations about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland break down.
The exit deal had aimed to guarantee a soft border between the nations on either side of it on the island of Ireland because it had been a flashpoint for sectarian violence in the past.
The BBC quoted Health Secretary Matt Hancock as saying: "Protecting peace (in Northern Ireland) is the priority here."
The bill, which also allows constituent members of the UK to regulate air quality and building regulations, has additionally angered devolved governments, which have said it amounts to a power grab.
The Scottish Sun quoted Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish government, as saying the bill would be a "full-frontal assault on devolution".
And Jeremy Miles, the Welsh government's Brexit minister, said it equates to "stealing powers from devolved administrations".
Attack on democracy
"This bill is an attack on democracy and an affront to the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland," the Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.
The Guardian newspaper reported that the leader of the UK's Labour Party had said Prime Minister Boris Johnson should have instead put his energy into securing a post-Brexit free-trade deal with the EU that would have made such a bill unnecessary.
But hopes of that feted free-trade deal with the EU looked to be fading on Wednesday after it was reported that France's new minister for external trade had said it would be "unattainable" for as long as the UK resisted committing to what he called a "level playing field".
Franck Riester said a deal would only be agreed by Brussels if, in addition to that level playing field, the UK granted EU fishing boats access to its waters, and if London vowed not to partake in social or fiscal "dumping".