British lawmakers have backed a new bill that would override parts of the Brexit treaty struck with the European Union last year, despite outrage in Brussels and alarm at home over such an overt breach of international law.
MPs in the House of Commons gave their initial approval to the UK Internal Market Bill by 340 votes to 263 on Monday, clearing the way for four days of detailed scrutiny of the text this week and next.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier argued the legislation was a “safety net” against what he claimed were EU threats to impose tariffs on UK internal trade and even stop food going from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.
But EU leaders have dismissed this as “spin” and warned Johnson to uphold commitments he himself made in the Brexit treaty last year – demanding he withdraws the offending parts of the new bill by the end of September.
The row threatens to disrupt already tough post-Brexit trade negotiations, fuelling growing fears of failure that would see more than four decades of EU-UK integration come to a crashing halt at the end of this year.
The legislation also sparked angry debate in London, reminiscent of the years of bitter political battles that followed the 2016 shock referendum vote to leave the EU.
Several of Johnson’s own Conservative MPs expressed alarm about breaking international law, with ex-finance minister Sajid Javid and former attorney general Geoffrey Cox among those saying beforehand that they would not back the bill as it stood.