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Brexit: Johnson says EU may not be negotiating in good faith Brexit: PM in compromise with Tory rebels over Internal Market Bill
(about 2 hours later)
Boris Johnson has told MPs he believes the EU may not be negotiating with the UK in good faith. No 10 has reached a deal with some of the Tory MPs unhappy with plans to give the government the power to override parts of the UK's Brexit agreement.
The PM was explaining why he wants to overwrite parts of the Brexit deal he signed with the EU in January. Boris Johnson has agreed to amend the Internal Markets Bill, giving MPs a vote before he could use the powers in it that would break international law.
He said it was to prevent the EU behaving in an "unreasonable" way if the UK fails to agree a trade deal. The move could head off a potential rebellion over the issue next week.
Pressed by Labour's Hilary Benn on whether he thought the EU was negotiating in good faith, he said: "I don't believe they are." But Labour said the UK was on course to break its word, as a senior government legal officer quit over the issue.
This contradicted Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who earlier told MPs he believed the EU was acting in good faith. Lord Keen, Scotland's Advocate General, stood down after days of speculation about his future.
When that was put to him, Mr Johnson said it was "always possible that I am mistaken and perhaps they will prove my suspicions wrong". In his resignation letter, he told the PM: "I have found it increasingly difficult to reconcile what I consider to be my obligations as a Law Officer with your policy intentions."
Both sides have a duty to act in good faith under Article 5 of the withdrawal agreement - but it is difficult to demonstrate a lack of "good faith" or "best endeavours" - another phrase enshrined in the treaty. The peer, who served in the Ministry of Justice, objected to proposed legislation which would allow the government to override parts of the EU Withdrawal Agreement in contravention of international law.
Rebel deal But less than a hour after his exit was confirmed, Downing Street said it had reached a compromise with two critics of sections of the bill, ex-justice minister Sir Bob Neill and former work and pensions secretary Damian Green.
The legal definition of "good faith" is stronger than the generally accepted meaning of the words.
Mr Johnson told the Liaison Committee, a panel of senior backbench MPs, that a no-deal scenario was "not what this country wants" and "it's not what our EU friends and partners want from us".
"Therefore I have every hope and expectation that that won't be the outcome."
It comes as Lord Keen, Scotland's Advocate General, quit the government, telling the PM: "I have found it increasingly difficult to reconcile what I consider to be my obligations as a Law Officer with your policy intentions."
Lord Keen objected to the UK Internal Markets Bill, which would allow the government to override parts of the withdrawal bill in contravention of international law.
The PM has reached a deal with some of the Tory MPs unhappy with parts of the bill, potentially reducing the size of a rebellion when it returns to the Commons next week.
'Near-unanimous agreement''Near-unanimous agreement'
The government has agreed to table an amendment to the bill, which would give MPs a vote before it used the powers in the bill that would break international law. The government has agreed to table an amendment to the bill, which would give MPs a vote on a Commons motion before the powers to "disapply" aspects of the legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement could be invoked.
In a joint statement with No 10, former cabinet minister Damian Green - head of a centrist group of Tory MPs - said: "The Internal Market Bill was designed to give MPs and peers a vote on the use of these powers via statutory instrument. In a joint statement with No 10, Mr Green - head of a centrist group of Tory MPs - said: "The Internal Market Bill was designed to give MPs and peers a vote on the use of these powers via statutory instrument.
"But following talks, it is agreed that the Parliamentary procedure suggested by some colleagues provides a clearer, more explicit democratic mandate for the use of these powers, and also provides more legal certainty.""But following talks, it is agreed that the Parliamentary procedure suggested by some colleagues provides a clearer, more explicit democratic mandate for the use of these powers, and also provides more legal certainty."
It means Sir Bob Neill - the Tory grandee who had been planning to try to give MPs the final say over the powers in the bill - will now drop his amendment. Tonight's compromise - some would say U-turn - between Downing Street and potential Conservative rebels appears to have solved one short-term problem.
It staves off the prospect of a serious, if not fatal, show of high-profile dissent next week when MPs debate the specific clauses of the bill that would breach international law.
The "parliamentary lock" would allow MPs as a whole, and not just ministers, to decide whether to press the political equivalent of the nuclear button.
It is thought MPs may be less likely to do so. But this compromise won't be enough to stop the bill being potentially savaged in the Lords.
Eminent peers with a background in the legal profession maintain that it is still wrong to legislate with the intention of breaking international law.
They will be bolstered by Lord Keen's resignation - as he has made it clear that he couldn't reconcile his responsibilities as a law officer with the government's policy.
And Brussels is insisting that the clauses which override part of the Brexit deal in Northern Ireland should be removed entirely. Otherwise the EU could take the UK government to court.
It means Sir Bob - the Tory grandee who had been planning to try to give MPs the final say over the powers in the bill - will now drop his planned amendment to the bill.
The statement claims that on the Tory benches there is "near-unanimous agreement that the government must be able to use these powers as a final resort, that there must be legal certainty, and that no further amendments are required on these powers".The statement claims that on the Tory benches there is "near-unanimous agreement that the government must be able to use these powers as a final resort, that there must be legal certainty, and that no further amendments are required on these powers".
It adds that the government will table another amendment "which sets clear limits on the scope and timeliness of judicial review into the exercise of these powers".It adds that the government will table another amendment "which sets clear limits on the scope and timeliness of judicial review into the exercise of these powers".
Welcoming the agreement, Mr Green urged the government to focus on settling the terms of its future economic partnership with the bloc before the 15 October deadline set by the PM. Mr Green urged the government to focus on settling the terms of its future economic partnership with the bloc before the 15 October deadline set by the PM.
However Labour's shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said his party would continue opposing the bill. The bill has provoked a backlash from the EU, which has threatened legal action - and the possible suspension of trade talks - if it is not withdrawn.
And Labour's shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said his party would continue opposing the legislation.
Responding to the joint statement he said: "This does not fix the problem of breaking the law, damaging our reputation around the world and damaging our future prosperity.Responding to the joint statement he said: "This does not fix the problem of breaking the law, damaging our reputation around the world and damaging our future prosperity.
"We need a trade deal with Europe and that is what we were promised. Breaking our own word and the treaty the prime minister signed puts that at risk.""We need a trade deal with Europe and that is what we were promised. Breaking our own word and the treaty the prime minister signed puts that at risk."
'Belt and braces' 'Good faith'
Mr Johnson says the Internal Market Bill is needed to protect the "territorial integrity" of the UK if trade talks with the EU fail. Defending the bill earlier during an appearance before a committee of senior MPs, Mr Johnson said he believed the EU may not be negotiating with the UK in good faith over the agreement's implementation.
He described it to MPs as a "belt and braces" measure in case of "extreme" interpretations of the withdrawal agreement by the EU. Pressed by Labour's Hilary Benn on whether he thought the EU was negotiating in good faith, he said: "I don't believe they are."
The bill was "about ensuring friends and partners don't do something unreasonable," he added. This contradicted Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who earlier told MPs he believed the EU was acting in good faith.
But it has provoked a backlash from the EU, which has threatened legal action - and the possible suspension of trade talks - if it is not withdrawn. When that was put to him, Mr Johnson said it was "always possible that I am mistaken and perhaps they will prove my suspicions wrong".
Both sides have a duty to act in good faith under Article 5 of the withdrawal agreement - but it is difficult to demonstrate a lack of "good faith" or "best endeavours" - another phrase enshrined in the treaty.
The legal definition of "good faith" is stronger than the generally accepted meaning of the words.
What is the Internal Market Bill?What is the Internal Market Bill?
The bill sets out rules for the operation of the UK internal market - trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - after the end of the Brexit transition period in January.The bill sets out rules for the operation of the UK internal market - trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - after the end of the Brexit transition period in January.
It proposes:It proposes:
The bill explicitly states that these powers should apply even if they are incompatible with international law.The bill explicitly states that these powers should apply even if they are incompatible with international law.
Ministers say the legislation is needed to prevent "damaging" tariffs on goods travelling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland if negotiations with the EU on a free trade agreement fail.Ministers say the legislation is needed to prevent "damaging" tariffs on goods travelling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland if negotiations with the EU on a free trade agreement fail.
But some senior Conservatives - including former Prime Minister Sir John Major - have warned it risks undermining the UK's reputation as an upholder of international law.
The legislation has also proved controversial with the devolved administrations, which are concerned about how the UK's "internal market" will operate post-Brexit and who will set regulations and standards.The legislation has also proved controversial with the devolved administrations, which are concerned about how the UK's "internal market" will operate post-Brexit and who will set regulations and standards.