Boris Johnson has urged Tory MPs to support controversial plans to override the Brexit divorce deal, amid legal threats from Brussels and Edinburgh.
The European Commission has given the UK until the end of the month to drop legislation that enables ministers to bypass provisions in last December’s withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland.
The Bill has also angered the Scottish Government as it gives Westminster the power to spend in devolved areas such as education and infrastructure.
Constitution secretary Mike Russell said the legislation would “cripple” the Scottish Parliament.
“Following the Brexit vote we were told it would see a bonanza of new powers for Holyrood – the reality, as is now plain to see, is instead a monumental power grab on Scotland’s national Parliament”, he said.
“At every single turn the Tories have misled the people and betrayed the promises made to Scotland.”
It’s a win-win for Scotland.”
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack rejected the claims, saying: “The Bill will protect and strengthen our internal market, which is so vital to Scotland’s economy with 60 per cent of our exports, worth more than £50 billion per year, going to other parts of the United Kingdom.
“It will also create new opportunities for the UK Government, working with the Scottish Government, local authorities and other partners, to invest in Scotland.
“It is good for business, jobs and consumers. It will boost our economy and help us rebuild from the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s a win-win for Scotland.”
And the prime minister’s official spokesman reiterated on Friday afternoon how the Bill was “critical” to the integrity of the UK’s internal market.
He also added that the UK would, in parallel to the passage of the legislation, continue to strive for a deal with the EU.
“We have engaged constructively with the EU throughout this process. We have negotiated in good faith and we will continue to do so,” the spokesman said.
“We do still believe that there is a deal to be reached. We will work hard to achieve it.
“What we have been asking for is for more realism on the EU side about what it means for the UK to have left the EU and to once again be a sovereign nation.”
With many senior Conservatives deeply concerned about the proposals and reports that up to 30 are considering rebelling in any Commons vote on the Bill, the prime minister this evening held a video conference to try to offer reassurance.
Ahead of the call, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said the PM would be reiterating his commitment to implementing the provisions in the agreement relating to Northern Ireland.
The spokesman added: “But he will also be setting out as a responsible government we must provide a safety net that removes any ambiguities and ensures that the government can always deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.”
There is never a time to play fast and loose with our international obligations, nor the rules-based order which underpins them, but to do so now would be an act of immeasurable self-harm. My article for @TheHouseLive on the #InternalMarketBill: https://t.co/RXXRloDrE7
— Sir Bob Neill MP (@neill_bob) September 10, 2020
A senior Tory, speaking ahead of the meeting, told us: “There’s a lot of disquiet in the party and a lot of people are waiting to see how things pan out over the weekend before making their feelings known publicly.
“A lot of us just wish it had been handled better, I just don’t understand how we get anywhere by standing up in the Commons and saying we’re breaking international law.”
Meanwhile, Gordon Brown joined fellow former prime ministers Theresa May and Sir John Major in condemning the government’s plan, describing it as “a huge act of self-harm”.
“You can’t expect to have a decent negotiation with the European Union if you start by breaking a treaty that you signed yourself and negotiated only a few weeks ago,” he told ITV.