Brexit: UK introduces new bill, what you need to know | News | DW | 09.09.2020
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Brexit: UK introduces new bill, what you need to know

How is the UK breaking international law with its new Brexit proposal and why is the EU so agitated about it? DW explains what's going on and what's at stake.

The UK government has confirmed rumors that had been circulating Westminster in recent days that it intends to alter the Brexit deal it negotiated with the European Union.

The move has been widely condemned as a breach of international law, one that undermines trust in Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government and added another twist to a saga that has been ongoing since British voters chose to leave the EU in June 2016.

What is the UK hoping to alter in the agreement?

The British government has claimed that the treaty was rushed through in January and it now recognizes ambiguities regarding the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which has been a major sticking point for both the UK and the EU.

The newly proposed British bill seeks to give ministers power to unilaterally disregard some of the arrangements in the Northern Ireland protocol.

Additionally, the British government wants to tear up the state aid rules post-Brexit in Northern Ireland, removing the "direct effect" of EU law. This regulation is in place to give any member of the public or business a right to sue in the event of a dispute under European law.

The bill also pulls apart Article 10 of the protocol concerning state aid and says that it will "not be interpreted in accordance with case law of the European court" or "in accordance with any legislative act of the EU."

What's the EU's problem with the proposal?

The EU is not happy with the new proposals as it changes an agreement signed and, supposedly, sealed towards the end of last year.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Ireland's taoiseach, Micheal Martin, are just two of the European leaders who have condemned the proposals they believe breach commitments made to protect the peace process and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Does it actually break international law?

Many observers have said the new bill breaks international law and undermines trust within the government.

Even two former Conservative prime ministers have expressed their dismay at the proposal. John Major, a frequent critic of the government on Brexit despite his allegiances to the Conservative Party, and Theresa May have both said the bill would undermine trust at an already sensitive time.

By "taking the powers to disapply the EU law concept of direct effect … in a certain very tightly defined circumstance," the government's Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, admitted the new bill breaks international law.

The bill's text deals with the issue of the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol — an element of the withdrawal agreement designed to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland after Brexit.

The minor details of the protocol, which will deal with issues of state aid and whether there needs to be customs checks on goods, is still being negotiated by a joint UK and EU committee.

What now?

The EU has called for urgent talks with the UK government and those talks will determine whether it is merely a clarification London is seeking or if certain parts of the Brexit agreement need to be torn up.

If it is the latter, then hopes of a trade deal between the two will lie in tatters and that will leave the UK almost certainly crashing out of the bloc in a "no-deal" scenario. And the clock is ticking since any trade deal between Brussels and London would need to approved by the end of the year.

Unless London and Brussels reach an agreement, the "no-deal" scenario sees the UK and EU on World Trade Organization terms, meaning means tariffs, border checks and other barriers to trade — a step both sides had hoped to avoid.

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