Brexit: MPs reinsert controversial powers back into UK Internal Market Bill

Peers in the House of Lords had removed the controversial sections, but MPs reinserted them. Credit: PA

Powers that would enable ministers to breach international law have been put back into controversial Brexit legislation by MPs.

The House of Commons restored sections of the UK Internal Market Bill which had been removed by peers, as talks between the UK and EU continue in search of a deal on arrangements beyond December 31.

The Bill sets out the way trade within the UK will work once it is outside the EU’s single market and customs union.

It initially contained sections which enabled ministers to override the Brexit divorce deal, thereby breaching international law, in a bid to protect the trading relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Peers inflicted a series of heavy defeats on the government to remove the clauses, but MPs reinstated them on Monday evening.

Only one of the contentious clauses was pushed to a vote, and that was won by the government by 357 votes to 268 – majority 89.

The division list showed Conservative MPs Sir Roger Gale, Simon Hoare and Stephen McPartland rebelled to oppose this move.

Business minister Paul Scully earlier said the government wanted to retain these clauses in their current form in the Bill until discussions with the EU “have successfully concluded”.

He also confirmed the government would be prepared to remove or deactivate three of the clauses if solutions were agreed during talks with the EU.

Peers in the House of Lords had voted to remove the controversial clauses. Credit: PA

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston called the move "an elegant attempt" by the prime minister to "render harmless" the controversial clauses, but others branded it "as limited" an offer "as you can get".

David Henig, of trade think tank the European Centre For International Political Economy, said: “As trust-building measures go the offer not to break (a) treaty if you get what you want is about as limited as you can get.

“An olive leaf at best, definitely not the branch. And not a sign of a government confident to make concessions.”

Credit: PA

For Labour, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said the offer sounded like the “beginnings of the grinding of the wheels of the climbdown”.

He added: “Three months of posturing, undermining our reputation in the world, and today, an hour before the debate begins, we see some preparations maybe for the brakes being applied before we go over the cliff.

“I have to say I’m not going to give the government any credit for that, and I don’t take their word for it either – because there is one thing this whole sorry saga has shown the world, I’m afraid, beyond any doubt, and that’s with this government their word is not their bond, they cannot be trusted because they’re willing to rip up international agreements they made less than a year ago.”

Mr Miliband also said the Bill had been “absolutely savaged” in the Lords.

He argued: “It’s been absolutely savaged, not just on international law but on devolution as well, not just by opposition parties, not just by crossbenchers, not simply by the former lord chief justice or the Archbishop of Canterbury, but it has been savaged by the heart of the Conservative Party.”

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The SNP’s Stuart McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) said: “To present this appalling Bill to this House once, I think, was outrageous, showing contempt for our European friends and neighbours, trampling all over international law and riding roughshod over devolution.

“To push it through for a second time, deliberately putting back in place all the same flaws as before, is therefore simply shameless.”

Peers also inflicted defeats on the government over devolution matters, amid concerns that the Bill brushes aside the freedoms of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

These were also overturned by MPs, including on so-called common frameworks – which manage the extent of divergence across policy areas – and funding of regional projects.

Peers had accused Westminster of pursuing a “power grab” by allowing ministers to take funding decisions across the UK post-Brexit, something the UK Government disagreed with.

The Bill returns to the House of Lords on Wednesday where peers could decide to fight back and strip out the controversial powers for a second time.