Brexit plea: MPs urged to show UK is ‘not villain in EU exit negotiations’

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Paul Goodman, who was MP for Wycombe between 2001 and 2010, urged those voting on the bill to pass it, despite outrage among some politicians over claims it breaks international law. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Brexit team have reviewed aspects of the withdrawal agreement, particularly surrounding Northern Ireland, should the EU and UK fail to reach a future trade deal. The move sparked fury with the likes of former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox claiming he would vote against the Government’s bill, before accusing Mr Johnson of causing “unconscionable” damage to the UK’s reputation across the world.

The new bill, if passed, would counteract the pact agreed by Brussels and the UK earlier this year, leading critics such as Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis to say the move would “break international law” in a “specific and limited way”.

The current withdrawal agreement, now an international treaty, enshrined the Northern Ireland Protocol.

This was created to ensure there would be no hard border returning across Ireland and Northern Ireland.

But the Government’s proposal would go against that pledge, which saw tensions erupt across the political spectrum.

Yet, ConservativeHome editor Mr Goodman argues that it would be more beneficial for MPs to approve the bill as it was the “least bad way forward” for the UK.

He wrote for the website: “We believe that the UK should not be the first party in a dispute to break international law – let alone present itself in that light.

“So the least bad way forward now is for MPs to vote for amendments which would guarantee all MPs rather than some a vote on any triggering of the contested clauses.”

Mr Goodman argued that by passing the amendments, the UK would be sending a message to “three audiences”.

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He continued: “First, to the courts: that any triggering would be the intention of the whole legislature.

“Second, to the Government: that it has bungled by casting the UK as a villain – and that, worse, its pre-election predecessor cocked up the state aid part of the negotiation, leaving us open to the European Courts of Justice (ECJ).

“Finally, to the EU. There can be no doubt that, if the negotiation collapses, and the Government then asserts that the EU has acted illegally, this Commons, with its Conservative majority of 80, would then swiftly vote to implement the contested clauses of this Bill.”

The ex-MP added: “In sum, we believe that countries will sometimes be accused of breaking international law. If the UK eventually finds itself in that position by triggering these clauses, so be it.

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“But it has been baffling to see the Government playing into the hands of the EU by casting itself as a law-breaker when its own version of events suggests it isn’t.”

Other MPs have staked their claims as to why the changes needed to be made to the agreement.

The UK left the EU on January 31, and is currently in the midst of negotiating a future trade deal with the bloc, which will come into effect on December 31.

However, five former Prime Ministers condemned the Government’s decision, with the likes of Sir John Major and Tony Blair accusing Mr Johnson of “embarrassing the UK”.

They alleged that the Government’s actions were “shameful”, and wrote in the Sunday Times that it was “irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice”.

The EU also waded into the row, as Brussels warned the UK it may face legal action if it does not override the new elements proposed by September 30.

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