LONDON (Reuters) – The British House of Commons approved legislation Tuesday that gives ministers the power to end their divorce deal with the European Union, despite the threat of legal action from Brussels and unrest in the ruling Conservative Party.
The UK Internal Market Bill, which ministers acknowledge violates international law, was approved by 340 votes to 256 and is now before the House of Lords for debate.
The bill aims to protect free trade between Britain’s four countries after the Brexit transition period is over, but has worsened relations with Brussels just as time is running out to reach an agreement on their long-term relationship.
After an initial uproar in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party, including criticism from three former Conservative prime ministers, the riot was quelled through a concession to give parliament the right to exercise its powers.
The government says clauses in the bill that replace Johnson’s withdrawal agreement signed in January are necessary to protect free trade with Northern Ireland and will only be used if border talks with the EU fail.
The EU, which wants to ensure that Northern Ireland’s open border with a Member State of Ireland does not act as a back door for goods to enter the bloc, says it is an extremely serious breach of the exit agreement and has threatened to sue.
The inspection in the House of Lords, the upper house of parliament, is expected to continue until early December. Johnson does not have a majority there, and revisions to the most controversial clauses are likely to have strong support.
But negotiations with the EU are expected to move faster, and if an agreement can be reached on an Irish border solution, powers may not be needed.
If there is no deal, any changes made by the lords will need the approval of the General Assembly, creating the potential for political opposition.