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Brexit: Tony Blair and John Major urge lawmakers to reject the bill

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Tony Blair and Sir John Major have joined critics in opposing the government’s proposed internal market bill.

Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major have urged parliament to reject Boris Johnson’s “shameful” attempt to bypass parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The prime minister has said the European Union is threatening to impose a customs border on the Irish Sea, separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Mr Blair and Mr John have accused the government of “embarrassing” the UK.

The Internal Market bill will be debated in the Commons on Monday.

The bill would go against the Withdrawal Agreement signed by the UK and the EU.

It addresses the Northern Ireland Protocol – part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement designed to prevent the return of a strong border to the island of Ireland.

If the bill becomes law, it would give UK ministers the power to modify or “not enforce” rules regarding the movement of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland, which will take effect on 1 January. if the UK and EU are unable to make a trade agreement.

Writing in The Sunday Times, Sir John and Mr Blair – former Conservative and Labor prime ministers respectively – said the government’s actions were “irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice”.

“It raises questions that go far beyond influence in Ireland, the peace process and the negotiation of a trade agreement – essential as they are. It calls into question the very integrity of our nation,” they said.

The former leaders said compliance with treaty obligations was “just as important” as domestic law and called for lawmakers to reject the legislation.

“As the world looks anxiously at the UK – whose word was once accepted as untouchable – the action of this government is embarrassing itself and embarrassing our nation,” they added.

Analysis

By Leila Nathoo, political correspondent

Tony Blair and Sir John Major say Boris Johnson knew the full consequences of the Brexit divorce deal he reached with Brussels last year – that new barriers to trade would arise between Northern Ireland and the rest of the Kingdom of the United.

They say the government’s plans to override parts of the deal now would jeopardize the Good Friday Agreement, undermine the UK’s credibility in future trade deals and could trigger a damaging retaliation from the EU.

They accuse ministers of embarrassing the UK by negotiating with what they call “cavalier bombs posing as serious diplomacy” – an approach they say questions the nation’s integrity.

Their intervention, however, is unlikely to shake Mr. Johnson, who insists the Internal Market Bill is a necessary safety net to protect the unification and peace process – and has challenged EU demands to withdraw controversial clauses before the end of the month.

The prime minister called on lawmakers to back the legislation – his predecessors say it is parliament’s job to stop his plan from going any further.

The Prime Minister urged Conservative MPs on Friday to support the bill during a Magnification call, following concerns about his proposals.

The EU has warned the UK it could face legal action if it does not remove controversial elements of the Internal Market Draft by the end of the month.

Ministers have sought to defend the government’s plans, with Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove saying the proposals were a means of protecting the “integrity” of the UK.

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Media titleMichael Gove: “What we can not have … is that the EU destroys or endangers the integrity of the United Kingdom”

And Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis acknowledged that the bill would break international law, but “in a very specific and limited way”.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer has accused the Prime Minister of “reviving the old lines” by working to circumvent his Withdrawal Agreement.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Labor leader said his party could support the Internal Market Draft if the government addresses “substantial cross-party concerns that have been raised”.

But in order to gain Labor support, the bill will no longer have to risk violating international law and address the concerns of displaced administrations for a “seizure of power”.

“We must continue to defeat this virus, not attack Europe,” said Sir Keir. “Go ahead with Brexit and defeat the virus. That should be the government’s mantra.”

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