Boris Johnson has been warned of a potential rebellion among his own MPs despite his controversial plan to bypass key elements of the Brexit deal by passing his first hurdle.
However, some senior conservatives have warned they cannot support the bill in its current form after ministers admitted last week that it violates international law.
Two Conservative MPs – Sir Roger Gale and Andrew Percy – voted against the bill, while 30 did not vote although some may have been ‘matched’ with opposition MPs.
The government’s record has been strengthened by the support of seven DUP deputies.
MPs will begin a detailed line-by-line review of the bill on Tuesday, with votes expected next week on amendments to Northern Ireland’s provisions some Tories might support.
Sir Roger admitted he was part of a “tiny minority” of Conservatives in voting against the bill, but predicted that others might rebel when the Commons come to consider the amendments that have been tabled.
“I thought you were fighting tooth and nail every step of the way. Others have made it clear that they want to keep their fire going. There is still a lot to play,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.
Even before the debate started, former Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his “fears” and former Chancellor Sajid Javid and former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said they could not support the crushing of the withdrawal agreement.
The intervention by Mr Cameron – who said passing legislation that violates international treaty obligations was “the very last thing you should consider” – means the five living former prime ministers have spoken against the bill.
In the Commons, Mr Johnson – who took the unusual step of opening the debate himself – said the “protective” measures were needed because the EU was now trying to “take advantage” of Ireland’s protocol of the North in the negotiations on a post-Brexit free trade. treat.
He said Brussels negotiators were threatening to ban the sale of British agri-food products anywhere in the EU, creating an “instant and automatic” ban on the movement of these products from Britain to Northern Ireland.
“As absurd and self-defeating as this action would be even as we debate this issue, the EU has still not taken this gun off the table,” he said.
Mr Johnson said some on the EU side even wanted to designate all goods in transit from Britain to Northern Ireland as “at risk” of entering the EU’s single market, thus making it subject to EU tariffs.
He said that could mean levies of 61 percent on Welsh lamb, 90 percent on Scottish beef and 100 percent on Devonshire curd, and “carve out tariff borders across our own country.”
“We cannot have a situation where the very borders of our country could be dictated by a foreign power or an international organization,” he said.
“No British prime minister, government, parliament can ever accept such an imposition.”
For Labor, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband – replaces Sir Keir Starmer who is in self-isolation against coronavirus – said Mr Johnson had only himself to blame for signing the Withdrawal Agreement.
“Either he was not upfront with the country about the deal in the first place, or he did not understand it,” Miliband said.
“Because a competent government would never have entered into a binding agreement with provisions it could not live with.”
A number of former Conservative ministers have made it clear that they will not support any measures that violate international law, including Andrew Mitchell, Sir Oliver Heald and another former attorney general Jeremy Wright.
Sir Charles Walker, deputy chairman of the powerful Conservative backbench committee of 1922, and Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan – a member of last year’s new group of Conservative MPs – have said they will not support the bill at second reading.
Sir Bob Neill, the chairman of the Commons Justice Committee who tabled an amendment requiring a vote in Parliament before ministers can exercise the new powers of the bill, urged MPs to “take the opportunity to amend and improve these clauses ”.
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