UK Internal Market Bill incompatible with Withdrawal Agreement – Lords EU and Constitution Committees report
Friday 16 October 2020
The House of Lords Constitution Committee and EU Committee are today publishing reports on the UK Internal Market Bill. Both reports call on the Government to remove provisions authorising breaches of the UK’s international law obligations under the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland and the Withdrawal Agreement.
The reports come ahead of second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords on Monday 19 October.
The Constitution Committee’s report highlights the constitutional significance of the Bill, primarily its implications for the devolution arrangements in the UK and the rule of law. The EU Committee’s report focuses on the effects of the Bill in the context of the Withdrawal Agreement and its international implications.
The Constitution Committee concludes that the Bill is unprecedented in setting out explicitly to break international law, and that this both undermines domestic law and is contrary to the rule of law.
In respect of devolution, the Constitution Committee’s report says "The Bill adopts an unnecessarily heavy-handed approach to reconciling the demands of free trade within the UK and the need to respect the role and responsibilities of devolved institutions."
The EU Committee finds that “the Government’s pre-emptive action has … placed the UK in the wrong” and has “damaged its international reputation as a defender of the rule of law”.
The EU Committee notes Government claims that the EU is not implementing the Protocol in good faith but points out that no evidence has been provided to support these claims, and that “the Withdrawal Agreement itself provides multi-layered remedies” to address UK-EU disputes.
Commenting on the Constitution Committee report, Baroness Taylor, Committee Chair said:
“Respect for the rule of law requires compliance with treaty obligations. The Government has not provided a satisfactory justification for the violations of international law under the Bill. This constitutionally dangerous approach is compounded by the fact that the Government seeks in this Bill to put ministerial powers above relevant domestic law —a step that is unprecedented as well as fundamentally at odds with the rule of law.
“The Bill also provides the Government with powers that could allow it to alter the competences of the devolved administrations in significant ways. As such it risks de-stabilising this integral part of the UK's constitutional arrangements at a time when it has never been more important for central and devolved governments to work together effectively.
“The Constitution Committee calls on the Government to set out a process for consultation with the devolved administrations on the management of the internal market arrangements and to consider the serious constitutional concerns that arise from the UK violating its obligations under international law”.
Commenting on the EU Committee report, Lord Kinnoull, Committee Chair, said:
“The Government has so far offered no convincing explanation of why it wants to use the Bill to breach an international agreement that the UK only ratified in January this year. Nor has it presented any evidence to support allegations that the EU has not been acting in good faith.
“This is hugely damaging to the UK’s reputation, particularly at a time when the Government is seeking to hold other countries to account for breaching international law. I really hope the Government will remove Part 5 of the Bill, and throw its energies into reaching agreement with the EU, particularly on the implementation of the Protocol. We all need to focus on the central task of maintaining stability and prosperity in Northern Ireland.”