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Boris Johnson backtracks on EU deal, despite party revolt

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London Prime Minister Boris Johnson attempted to quell a rebellion among lawmakers in his Conservative Party on Monday as Parliament prepared to vote on a Brexit bill that the government admits violates international law.

The vote, which will likely take place late Monday night after a critical debate in the House of Commons, is just the first step in the bill, which would overturn parts of a landmark deal Mr Johnson struck with the European Union last fall. The deal paved the way for Britain to exit the bloc after 44 years.

If Mr Johnson, with an 80-seat majority, is virtually certain of winning the vote, it sets off a politically perilous time for him, both with his own party and with the European Union. The bloc has warned that the legislation will torpedo negotiations for a post-Brexit trade deal.

With other legislative hurdles to come, analysts said the danger was less of a quick defeat and more of a gradual washout of support that could weaken Mr Johnson as his government battles a resurgence of the coronavirus and the effects. a lock. ravaged economy.

If you put together concerns about governments’ handling of the virus, concerns about the economy and concerns about the effects on individual freedoms of the lockdown, Boris Johnson is making a lot of people unhappy, said Tim Bale, professor of politics to Queen. Mary University of London.

Britain also faces other international repercussions, including with the United States, where Congress Democrats have warned Mr Johnson his move could derail a transatlantic trade deal because it undermines the Good Friday deal. , which ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. .

Mr Johnson’s aggressive decision to rewrite the treaty provisions relating to Northern Ireland has drawn a torrent of criticism from prominent Conservative figures, including former Prime Minister David Cameron. On Monday, Mr Cameron said he had doubts about the government’s proposal.

Passing an act of Parliament and then breaking an international treaty obligation is the very last thing to consider, Mr Cameron told reporters, becoming the last of five former prime ministers, including three Tories, to denounce Mr Plan Johnsons .

The government has also lost the support of a former attorney general, Geoffrey Cox. Mr Cox served in Mr Johnsons’ last cabinet and said he would vote against the law because it would damage the British reputation worldwide. His defection was notable as Mr Cox was Brexit-friendly and was the government’s main legal adviser when Mr Johnson negotiated the Withdrawal Agreement.

Despite the names in bold lined up to oppose the law, there was no indication that Mr Johnson was planning to back down. Threatening to tear up a deal with the European Union plays well with the die-hard Brexiteers in his party. And there are still three and a half months until the Dec.31 deadline for a trade deal with Brussels, which means Mr Johnson can still compromise later.

Mr Johnson pursued a similar strategy of brinkmanship this time last year, threatening to leave the European Union without a withdrawal agreement, which sparked a similar, albeit more widespread, mutiny in his party.

The prime minister expelled 21 rebels for defying the government, including big Tories like Kenneth Clarke, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Nicholas Soames, a grandson of Winston Churchill. Government officials said Downing Street was considering a similar punishment this time around.

Mr Johnson continued to threaten a no-deal Brexit until October, when he met Leo Varadkar, then Irish Prime Minister, and suddenly struck a deal on the treatment of Northern Ireland that opened the door to a broader agreement with Brussels. Mr Johnson presented the compromise as a resounding victory.

It is this deal that Mr Johnson is now proposing to abandon, if Britain is unable to agree to long-term trade deals with the European Union. The government says the legislation is intended to provide a safety net for businesses in Northern Ireland, which send and receive goods from the rest of the UK.

Few analysts expected more than a handful of Tory lawmakers to vote against the government on Monday, as the vote was on the direct question of whether to move the legislation forward, known as the draft. internal market law.

But others could vote for an amendment brought forward next week by Conservative member Bob Neill that would prevent the government from using provisions in the bill that would break the law by rescinding the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol. , without parliamentary approval.

However, even this rebellion seems to fail, given the size of Mr Johnson’s majority and the reluctance of Tory lawmakers to fall out with a prime minister who won a landslide victory less than a year ago.

If the bill passes in the House of Commons, it goes back to the House of Lords, where Michael Howard, who sits in that house and is a former leader of the Conservative Party, predicted he would encounter a opposition movement. Yet lords rarely thwart legislation passed by the lower house.

Despite all the fireworks, some analysts still said they believed Mr Johnson would eventually come to an agreement with Brussels. Threats from prime ministers to break off talks, violate international law or accept a no-deal Brexit are all aimed, they said, at setting the stage for a compromise.

It’s a signal to his Brexit ultras that he’s playing hard with the European Union, which will make it easier when he eventually has to make concessions to secure a deal, Professor Bale said.

The risk for Mr Johnson, analysts say, is that he may miscalculate the European Union’s reaction, which has so far been measured, or that his government no longer has the bandwidth to strike a deal. commercial, a scenario that is not unlikely given its growing urgency regarding a second wave of the virus.

It is perfectly possible to fall into war, Professor Bale said.

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