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Controversial Brexit bill passes Commons vote

September 14, 2020

The British government passed the bill with a majority 340 to 263, despite vocal opposition from former prime ministers and members of the Conservative party. Critics have called the act a breach of international law.

England | House of Commons | Brexit Debatte | Boris Johnson
Image: picture-alliance/empics/House of Commons

The House of Commons passed Prime Minister Boris Johnson's proposed bill in a vote on Monday evening by 340 to 263, with results coming in around 10:30 p.m. local time.

The Internal Market Bill, which was debated in the lower house of parliament, the House of Commons, throughout Monday evening, is a contravention of the United Kingdom's divorce treaty with the European Union and had already generated criticism from EU partners and Conservative lawmakers alike.

Now that the bill has passed its second reading, it will face four more days of debate. At that stage, lawmakers could still insert revisions that could change the entire meaning of the bill.  

The bill's passage immediately spurred widespread criticism on the part of several politicians and parties.

"Still can't quite believe what we're witnessing," tweeted Caroline Lucas, a Green party MP. "This is nothing to do with views on Brexit - it's about who we are as a country — about the rule of law — about the most basic principles of liberal democracy."

The Scottish National Party also slammed the bill, saying that it "breaks international law, attacks Scotland's democracy, threatens our NHS & public services, imposes an extreme Brexit against our will."

"Struck by the needlessly antagonistic & utterly false rhetoric tonight in Westminster as the Internal Market Bill was debated. The cult of Brexit is pursuing a truly awful path," tweeted Irish Fine Gael politician Neale Richmond.

Johnson: An 'insurance policy' only

The bill in question proposed that the British government be able to override the withdrawal agreement made with the EU in regards to trade between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.

Johnson put forward the bill in Monday's debate with the claim that the EU was trying to force the UK to accept certain regulations and that the European bloc had threatened to use "an extreme interpretation" of the withdrawal agreement in order to do so.

Read moreGermany: Britain will suffer most if post-Brexit talks fail 

He defended the proposed bill by explaining that the "package of protective powers" would not override the agreement with the EU, but that it would allow the government to respond to the claimed threats from the bloc.

He stated that he had no intention to invoke the powers in the bill and that a new agreement could be reached with the EU.

"We signed the withdrawal agreement in the belief that the EU would be reasonable," but now the government must seek an "alternative" and an "insurance policy" in order to "protect the integrity" of the UK, Johnson told the Commons on Monday.

The EU has rejected Johnson's version of events and threatened to take legal action against the British government if it did not drop the proposed bill by the end of September.

Read more:  Opinion: Boris Johnson's chaotic Brexit strategy

A broken agreement

David Cameron, prime minister of the UK at the time of the Brexit referendum, became the last living former British prime minister to express his concerns about the bill, warning hours before the debate that "passing an act of Parliament and then going on to break an international treaty obligation is the very, very last thing you should contemplate."

Theresa May, John Major and Labour former PMs Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had already spoken out.

Read moreWill Boris Johnson sink Britain's Brexit withdrawal deal?

The bill also pushed Tory MP Rehman Chishti to step down in an act of protest on Monday, while Sajid Javid, Conservative MP and the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, said he could not see why it would be necessary to break international law.

Read moreBrexit: Former UK prime ministers slam 'illegal' trade plan

Trade deal still under negotiation

The UK and the EU remain in negotiations about a future trade deal with both sides saying that such a deal must be agreed on by October in order to be passed into law before December 31 when EU trade regulations with the UK will end.

If no deal is reached then both sides would likely impose trade tariffs from the beginning of 2021. Roughly half of the UK's trade is done with the European bloc.

This is an updated version of a previous article

ab,lc/dr (AP, dpa, Reuters)