Former prime ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair have urged Boris Johnson to drop his “shameful” EU bill and accused the government of “embarassing” the nation under mounting criticism from across the political spectrum.
The pair united to deliver the extraordinary intervention in the Sunday Times, calling on the government to reject the legislation or be forced to by MPs.
Sir John and Mr Blair, the former Conservative and Labour leaders respectively, said Mr Johnson’s controversial UK Internal Market Bill imperils the Irish peace process, trade negotiations and the UK’s integrity.
“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 through they are.
“It questions the very integrity of our nation.”
The Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has said he will resign if the government breaks the law “in a way that I find unacceptable” amid growing concern over Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans.
However, he insisted he does not believe the UK will “get to that stage”, arguing the controversial UK Internal Market Bill, which will be debated in parliament on Monday, is needed in order to “prepare for the worst”.
“If I see the rule of law being broken in a way I find unacceptable then of course I will go”, he told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC 1.
“I don’t believe we’re going to get to that stage. I know in my mind what I have to do. But the government collectively here also has a responsibility, we’ve got to resolve any conflict, that’s what we will do.”
His defence came as Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said the UK was damaging its international reputation as he hit out at Mr Johnson’s “spin” in denying Europe could impose a “blockade” between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Irish politician dismissed the Prime Minister’s suggestion the EU could prevent food products being transported from Britain to Northern Ireland.
He said: “There is no blockade proposed. That is the kind of inflammatory language coming from Number 10 which is spin and not the truth.”
Instead, there would be just “limited checks” on goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland because there is an agreement to prevent the need of a physical border in Ireland.
He said: “Therefore we have to ensure goods are not travelling through Great Britain into the single market from the Republic of Ireland.
“Outside of Britain, where this issue is being discussed now, the reputation of the UK as a trusted negotiating partner on important issues like this is being damaged in a very serious way”, he added.
The European Commission has given the UK until the end of the month to drop legislation enabling ministers to override the provisions in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland.
In a piece for the Sunday Telegraph, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party could back the bill if the Prime Minister acts to address “substantial cross-party concerns”.
However, the changes necessary to win Labour’s support are understood to be significant, with the bill needing to no longer risk breaching international law and to address concerns from devolved administrations of a “power grab”.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford told BBC Politics Scotland the bill “ignores” the devolution settlement of Scotland and is giving the UK Government powers over devolved areas which is “simply not acceptable”.
It questions the very integrity of our nation.
Sir John Major and Tony Blair.
Tory rebels have suggested their numbers are growing, with Commons justice committee chairman Sir Bob Neill tabling an amendment which he said would impose a “parliamentary lock” on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.
Labour minister Rachel Reeves said the party would “need to look at the detail” of Sir Bob’s amendment adding Labour MPs would table amendments of their own.
She told the Marr show: “The bill as it stands, the Labour party and it looks like a large number of Conservative MPs, will not be able to support it, because I, and Sir Keir Starmer, cannot go through the division lobbies knowing that we are deliberately and consciously breaking international law.”
It comes after Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told MPs that the prime minister’s plan to override parts of the Brexit deal “does break international law”.