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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Brexit divides Tory MPs again as critics slam Johnson’s plan

By Joe Mayes Washington Post

Senior Conservatives slammed Boris Johnson’s plan to override the Brexit deal he negotiated, a sign of how EU relations are still a fault-line in his party as he tries to push the legislation through Parliament.

Johnson’s plan would allow Britain to unilaterally amend the post-Brexit settlement for Northern Ireland, risking a trade war with the EU. But Former Prime Minister Theresa May, former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell and Northern Ireland Select Committee Chairman Simon Hoare all panned the proposal during a debate in the House of Commons on Monday.

In awkward timing for the British premier as he met European Union leaders at the Group of Seven summit in Germany, May — his immediate predecessor — said the bill is illegal, won’t achieve its aims and will harm Britain’s reputation. “I cannot support it,” she said. “It will diminish the standing of the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world.”

As well as provoking the ire of some on the Tory back benches, the legislation has provoked renewed legal action from the EU and soured relations with the UK’s biggest trading partner. Speaking at the G-7 on Monday, Johnson told reporters his proposal could be carried out “fairly rapidly” and he wants it done by year-end.

“We could do it very fast, Parliament willing,” Johnson said.

The Commons will vote late on Monday on whether to allow the bill to pass to its next legislative stage. It could take as long as a year to pass Parliament and become law if the upper House of Lords digs in.

Johnson’s government argues the bill is necessary to address disruption to trade caused by the Brexit deal it signed, which created an effective customs border between Northern Ireland and mainland Great Britain. It also wants to restore the region’s power-sharing executive, which has collapsed due to the Democratic Unionist Party’s opposition to the protocol.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Monday that ministers had to proceed with the plan because the EU isn’t being sufficiently flexible in negotiations and won’t agree to change the text of the protocol.

“We simply cannot allow this situation to drift,” Truss said, insisting the plan is legal. The bill will “fix the practical problems the protocol has created”.

Legal experts have widely criticized the government’s position as being in breach of international law, a claim that was also made by the dissenting Tory MPs. Hoare called the plan a “failure of statecraft” and said the arguments for it are “flimsy at best and irrational at worst.” Mitchell said the move “trashes our international reputation” and “threatens a trade war when our economy is flat.”

An EU trade war is a prospect because the bloc says the post-Brexit trade agreement is conditional on Britain respecting the terms of their divorce, of which the so-called Northern Ireland protocol was a key part.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, told reporters during a trip to Oslo on Monday that the UK plans mean “constant uncertainty.”

“What we are communicating to our UK partners is ‘come back to the negotiating table, respect international law,’” he said. “Because if the bill would be adopted as drafted, we simply have to keep all options on the table.”

The changes the UK government wants to make to the protocol include reducing customs paperwork for traders sending goods across the Irish Sea, stripping the European Court of Justice of its role in settling disputes and extending UK subsidy controls and tax breaks to Northern Ireland.

Earlier, cabinet minister George Eustice argued that the UK isn’t planning to break its agreement with the EU, but rather bring “clarity to how it should be interpreted.”