LONDON – The British government insisted Tuesday it will press ahead with legislation that breaks a legally binding Brexit treaty with the European Union, despite a resounding rejection of the bill by the upper house of Parliament.
The House of Lords voted by large margins late Monday to strip from the Internal Market Bill clauses that give the Conservative government power to break sections of the divorce agreement it signed with the EU before the U.K. left the bloc in January.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government acknowledges that the bill breaches international law, and the legislation has been condemned by the EU, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and scores of British lawmakers, including many from Johnson’s own Conservative Party.
John Major, a former Conservative prime minister, said the bill had “damaged our reputation around the world.”
Former Conservative leader Michael Howard, a member of the Lords, said he was “dismayed” by the bill and urged the government to think again.
But the government said it would restore the rejected sections when the bill returns to the House of Commons in late November or December.
It says the bill is needed as an insurance policy to ensure smooth trade among all parts of the U.K. — especially Northern Ireland, which shares a border with the EU — no matter what happens to U.K.-EU trade after Brexit. Critics say it could undermine the foundations of Northern Ireland peace by leading to border checks along the currently invisible frontier between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The British government denies that will happen.
“We’ve been consistently clear that the clauses represent a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the U.K.’s internal market and the huge gains of the (Northern Ireland) peace process,” the government said.
Britain left the EU’s political side on Jan. 31 but remains in its economic embrace until a transition period ends on Dec. 31. The two sides are trying to strike a new trade deal, but talks are stuck on key issues including fishing rights and competition rules, and have been soured further by the Internal Market Bill.
Britain and the EU say any post-Brexit trade deal must be agreed upon by mid-November so it can be ratified by the end of the year.
Although Johnson said Sunday that a trade deal is “there to be done,” the two sides still accuse one another of refusing to compromise.
The bloc accuses Britain of wanting to “have its cake and eat it” — retaining access to the EU’s lucrative markets without agreeing to follow its rules. Britain says the EU is making unreasonable demands and is failing to treat the country as an independent, sovereign state.
If there is no deal, businesses on both sides of the English Channel will face tariffs and other barriers to trade starting on Jan. 1. That would hurt economies on both sides, with the impact falling most heavily on the U.K., which does almost half of its trade with the 27-nation bloc.
Still, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Tuesday he was optimistic there would be an agreement.
“London has long recognized that it’s in Britain’s interest to have an agreement," he told the AP.
Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this story.
Follow all developments on the Brexit trade negotiations at https://apnews.com/Brexit.