Parliament passes Internal Market Bill, contradicting Withdrawal Agreement with EU
— 2 minute read — By Sam Portillo
The UK Government has successfully passed a bill through the House of Commons which would give ministers the power to set trading standards across the four nations, in spite of the Withdrawal Agreement signed just this January which agreed that Northern Ireland would follow European rules.
The Internal Market Bill seeks to “protect jobs and trade” by streamlining trade regulations across the UK, therefore guaranteeing that goods and services originating in one nation can be sold in another. It once again raises the Northern Ireland dilemma that has proved a persistent obstacle as the UK and EU have attempted to broker a divorce deal.
As a fully-fledged constituent of the UK, Northern Ireland is subject to Westminster’s economic and foreign policy decisions. Currently though, around two-thirds of its trade is conducted with the European Union, and one-third with the Republic of Ireland alone. For this reason, all parties agreed that Northern Ireland would remain a part of the EU’s Single Market – which adheres to a set of standards and regulations set in Brussels. The Internal Market Bill challenges this by enabling UK ministers to set their own standards, meaning Northern Ireland would technically have to follow two distinct rulebooks when exporting goods and services.
The fifty-eight page document explicitly states that the legislation would take precedence over “any relevant international or domestic law” with which it may be “incompatible”. The government’s Northern Ireland Secretary admitted that the bill would break international law in a “specific and limited way”, pointing towards a similar scenario in 2013.
The move also threatens devolved nations Scotland and Wales, which are entitled to set their own trading standards in Holyrood and the Senedd respectively. They will have an opportunity to give or refuse consent in a “Legislative Consent Motion”; alas, such votes are not legally binding, as seen when each of the devolved parliaments rejected the Withdrawal Agreement itself, only for the Westminster government to proceed with it.
President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen said she was “very concerned” about the bill and reiterated that respect for the Withdrawal Agreement was a “prerequisite” for any free trade deals that will be signed between the UK and EU. Both sides must come to an agreement soon, not just to protect the future of Northern Ireland, but to ensure their own, too.