The text carried by Boris Johnson, who wishes to return, in violation of international law, on certain commitments made in the context of Brexit, crossed a first obstacle on Monday in the British Parliament. The Prime Minister creates a stir in his country and on the side of the European Union. How did we get here ?
“Brexit vote: what just happened and what will happen next?” More than four years after the British “yes” to the UK’s exit from the European Union, the BBC’s publication on Tuesday September 15 ofan article with this title constitutes a sign which does not deceive. The surprises, debates, invective, hypotheses and other blows of Trafalgar are back.
While London and Brussels fail to agree on the contours of their post-divorce relationship, yet officially pronounced on January 31, the British Parliament has been debating, since Monday, a controversial bill, which proposes to override a whole part of the agreement negotiated in pain for more than three years with the 27. His name: the“Internal Market Bill” (in French, the “draft law on the internal market”).
Defended Monday by Boris Johnson before parliamentarians, the text was approved at second reading (by 340 votes against 263), opening the voice to a necessarily agitated debate. And for good reason: the content of this bill is explosive for the United Kingdom as for the European Union. If you’re struggling to understand why all eyes are (still) on Westminster, here are some answers.
Isn’t Brexit meant to be a settled story?
It is true that after fiercely negotiating a withdrawal agreement, the UK officially left the European Union. However, in practice, nothing has changed so far: the rules that governed relations between London and the 27 when the British were members of the EU have continued to apply. This “transition period” was designed to allow the two parties to negotiate new treaties with each other. It runs until December 31, 2020, when the new rules will replace the old ones.
London and Brussels must in particular settle trade questions: what customs duties between the two blocks? How to facilitate exchanges? How to ensure fair competition? In short, all of these elements and details are too precise to be immediately included in the Withdrawal Agreement.
However, these negotiations are not moving forward. It even appears more and more improbable that the two protagonists will manage to validate the applicable rules in time from January 1. If they fail to do so, the UK and EU, then without a contract with each other, will have to apply the very crude rules of the World Trade Organization overnight. . This is called the “no deal”, a scenario which anguishes the economic actors of both camps.
So what does this have to do with the Internal Market Bill?
The UK government introduced a 58-page bill on 9 September aimed at “protect jobs and trade” within the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period, indicates the government, quoted by The Guardian. Its goal: to allow London tofree from certain clauses of the withdrawal agreement negotiated and validated with the EU at the end of 2019, in order to manage its internal market as it sees fit. The main sticking point remains the destiny of Northern Ireland, British territory on the island of Ireland, itself a country that is part of the EU: it is the “Northern Irish protocol”.
By proposing this law, Boris Johnson wants, on his terms, “to ensure the fluidity and security of our UK internal market ” and ensure that the decisions taken in London, in particular as regards public aid, can be applied to Belfast, even if they were to contravene what was decided between London and Brussels in the said protocol.
Boris Johnson fears, for example, that the EU will enforce the withdrawal agreement to prevent exports (especially food) from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. “They threaten to create a customs border in our own country”, between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, he lost his temper.
“The intention of this bill is clearly to prevent any use of the baton against this country”, he said. “That’s what it’s for. It’s protection, it’s a safety net, it’s an insurance policy and it’s a very reasonable measure,” he pleaded before parliamentarians on Monday.
Wait, what’s the matter with the Northern Irish protocol?
Until the very end of 2019, Brexit as a whole almost collapsed because of the Northern Irish protocol. A few days before the last deadline to validate the withdrawal agreement, Boris Johnson had sent out the proposals of European negotiators to present his vision of the famous protocol. In order not to establish a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (thus respecting the Good Friday Agreements, the text that ended the civil war in 1998), he imagined a device in which customs controls will be carried out at ports, between the United Kingdom and the Irish island. Boris Johnson proposed that, like the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland leave the common market, but that EU rules on goods continue to apply there, so that there is no need for controls (including conformity) between the two Ireland.
Accepted by the EU and Westminster on the gong, Boris Johnson’s plan is the pride of the Prime Minister, who boasts “an excellent new agreement that allows you to take back control.”
We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control — now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment #GetBrexitDone #TakeBackControl
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) October 17, 2019
However, today, the Prime Minister considers that this agreement contains too many gray areas.
Why does Boris Johnson want to go back on a text he proposed 11 months ago?
For many observers, theInternal Market Bill could be the keystone of the Prime Minister’s strategy in his ongoing showdown with Brussels over the post-Brexit deal. For example, Sky News political reporter Beth Rigby sees it as a bluff. “On the surface, Boris Johnson looks like he’s about to blow up trade talks and do whatever he can to defend the interests British”, she explains. Yet it could be that the Prime Minister is “actually preparing to put the trade deal on the table while going into battle against the Withdrawal Agreement to demonstrate that he has stood up for the UK and tried to get concessions on government aid ‘State and customs controls“.
Why does this bill panic everyone?
By the British government’s own admission, this “Internal Market Bill“violates international law. His first adoption on Monday sparked an uproar. Former Conservative Prime Ministers John Major and Theresa May, like Labor Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, have all sharply criticized him. “Passing a law in parliament and then continuing in violation of an obligation under an international treaty is really the very last thing to consider, it should only be applied as a very last resort. “, said David Cameron, head of government that organized the June 2016 referendum,
On the Labor opposition side, MP Ed Miliband has strangled Boris Johnson, asking him to “for the first time in his life” “take his responsibilities”.
The continuation of the parliamentary progress of this project promises to be uncertain. An amendment that would impose a parliamentary lock before any changes to the European Union exit agreement is due to be considered next week.
Can the Europeans do something against this text?
At the last I heard, on Tuesday morning, the Europeans were “seriously concerned”. The EU has given London until the end of the month to withdraw the controversial provisions, risking legal action. If it is a bluff, it could turn out to be counterproductive, believes for her part the researcher Georgina Wright, member of the think tank Institute for governement. “Member countries are now unlikely to change their position if they think the UK will end up failing to honor its commitments.”, she analyzes. The verdict will come soon enough: an agreement must be concluded by mid-October, the last deadline to allow the ratification of an agreement that would avoid a “no deal”.