Former prime ministers slam Boris Johnson on Brexit
Two former British prime ministers who played crucial roles in bringing peace to Northern Ireland joined forces Sunday to urge lawmakers to reject government plans to override the Brexit deal with the European Union, arguing that it imperils that peace and damages the UK’s reputation.
In an article in The Sunday Times, John Major and Tony Blair slammed the current British government for “shaming” the country with legislation that, in places, goes against the very deal it signed to allow for the UK’s smooth departure from the EU earlier this year.
Major, a Conservative prime minister from 1990 to 1997, and Blair, his Labour successor for a decade, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Internal Market Bill “questions the very integrity” of the UK.
“This government’s action is shaming itself and embarrassing our nation,” they said.
The planned legislation, which will be debated by British lawmakers this week, has led to a furious outcry within the EU as it would diminish the bloc’s previously agreed oversight of trade between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland if a UK-EU trade agreement isn’t secured.
The British government has admitted that the legislation would break international law, but argues that it’s an insurance policy for that potential ‘no-deal’ scenario. Johnson has said the legislation is needed to end EU threats to impose a “blockade” in the Irish Sea that the prime minister asserted could “carve up our country”.
Britain’s Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told the BBC on Sunday that the legislation was a “break the glass in emergency provision”, if needed, and that he would resign if he believed the rule of law was broken in an “unacceptable” way.
“I don’t believe we’re going to get to that stage,” he said.
Major and Blair, who both vociferously opposed Brexit, said the planned legislation puts the 1998 Good Friday agreement that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland at risk.
The pair said the bill “negates the predictability, political stability and legal clarity that are integral to the delicate balance between the north and south of Ireland that is at the core of the peace process”.
It’s unclear whether the planned legislation will get through the British Parliament, with a number of Johnson’s fellow Conservatives uneasy at the prospect of the government breaching international law.
Tobias Ellwood is one lawmaker who has said he could not accept the legislation, arguing that the bill diminishes “our role-model status as defender of global standards”.