The Brief, powered by Eurogas -The art of breaking the law, legally

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER]

We may have been free from parliamentary melodrama in Westminster for almost a year but for Brexit masochists, there’s yet another act in this seemingly endless Wagnerian saga, courtesy of Boris Johnson’s Internal Market Bill.

UK MPs are likely to give their consent to the bill next week after obtaining an amendment that means they must give permission to ministers to override the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU. In other words, it is OK for the government to break the law provided that MPs say it is.

It’s hard to imagine such an argument being used in a court of law. Just as the bill, in the words of Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis, breaks the law in a ‘specific and limited way’, so MPs will get to decide on that ‘specific and limited way’.

That might satisfy those who were worried about giving ministers free rein to break the Withdrawal Agreement but it solves one problem by creating another and without addressing the fundamental issue; namely that the UK is threatening to breach an international treaty – and one which it signed and approved less than a year ago.

Michael Howard, a Conservative member of the Lords who sacked Boris Johnson during his time as party leader, says the bill is unlikely to be passed by the UK’s Upper House. “As far as I’m concerned, this is a matter of principle,” said Howard, who is one of the staunchest Eurosceptics in Westminster.

The European Commission has repeated its demand that the Internal Market Bill be withdrawn by the end of September. Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden, currently favourite to win the White House in November, weighed in, saying that he would not let peace in Northern Ireland become a “casualty of Brexit” if he became the next US president.

Where do we go from here?

A reading of Johnson’s past behaviour suggests that even if he waters the bill down, he won’t withdraw it. The EU, meanwhile, is unlikely to simply give up and walk away.

In a nod to the time pressure that the government is under, one amendment proposed by ministers is to put a time-limit on any attempts to question the legality of the controversial sections by judicial review. However, if the Lords reject it, the bill will be delayed by one year regardless, creating a new constitutional crisis.

Meanwhile, while the Conservative party pontificates on whether and how it will break an international treaty, what happens to the ever-ticking countdown of the trade negotiations?

There is now less than one month until the European Council summit that was billed as the final deadline for signing off on an EU-UK pact.

With the two sides still poles apart on the fundamental questions of regulatory harmonisation, state aid and fisheries, and both accusing the other of negotiating in bad faith, it is hard to imagine how the impasse can be broken.


A message from Eurogas:  Did you know that the European Commission’s Long Term Strategy climate neutral scenarios require a huge deployment of CCS in the 2020s? By 2050 there will be more renewable hydrogen in the system finds the Eurogas study.


The  Roundup

EU member states and the European Parliament continued to disagree on whether to increase the Union’s long-term budget, complicating attempts to reach a quick agreement on the badly needed recovery fund for the member states.

The upcoming negotiations over the EU’s long-awaited new migration proposal are expected to hit another dead end, despite the European Commission’s assurances of having held an “intensive consultation process”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has held a series of contacts with EU leaders in recent days, aiming to find allies who would block potential sanctions against Turkey at the 24-25 September EU summit over its illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Commission’s equality boss Helena Dalli stressed the importance of “anti-racism” as the core principle of the EU’s plan to tackle ethnic discrimination across the continent, which will include new legislation, policy measures, and dialogue.

The EU should not ‘copy and paste’ everyday racial discrimination and bias into algorithms in artificial intelligence, the EU’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová said.

Belarus will close its borders with EU neighbours Poland and Lithuania and step up security measures at the Ukrainian frontier, President Alexander Lukashenko announced.

The fight against the supremacy of France’s Nutri-Score system as the EU-wide nutrition food label has kicked up a notch with the addition of a new non-paper backed by at least seven member states.

The German Forest Days, which started, are intended to draw attention to the fact that forests are threatened by climate change. At the same time, Berlin and Brussels are developing strategies to protect them.

Before you head into the weekend, have a look at our latest edition of the Digital Brief.

Look out for…

Foreign Affairs Council on Monday with a heavy agenda including Turkey, Belarus, Russia, Libya, EU-China relations and more.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe
Contribute