Boris Johnson’s controversial internal markets bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons tonight by a majority of 77, with 340 MPs voting in favour of the legislation and 263 votes against.
The bill has been the source of much tension within the Conservative Party after a minister confirmed last week that it could lead to the UK government breaking international law by overriding the Northern Ireland protocol.
The vote produced a small rebellion, with two Tory MPs voting against – Roger Gale and Andrew Percy – and 30 more appearing to abstain, though some will have had no vote recorded without being active abstentions.
Sajid Javid was among the rebels, saying earlier in the day that he was “regretfully unable” to back the bill. No-show MPs also included former cabinet members Geoffrey Cox, Jeremy Wright, Karen Bradley and Julian Smith.
7 DUP MPs voted with the government, plus Independent Dr Julian Lewis who recently had the Tory whip removed. 195 Labour MPs, as well as SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and Green MPs, voted against the bill.
Starmer did not himself contribute to the Commons debate today. He entered coronavirus self-isolation this morning after being told that a member of his household had showed possible symptoms of Covid-19.
Standing in for him, Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband argued that the new law was a risk to the Northern Ireland peace process, saying: “This is not just legislative hooliganism, it is hooliganism on the most sensitive of issues.”
He added: “What the Prime Minister is coming to this House to tell us today is that his flagship achievement, the deal he told us was a triumph, the deal he said was ‘oven-ready’, the deal on which he fought and won the general election is now contradictory and ambiguous.”
The government has claimed that the internal markets bill is being put forward in order to protect the Good Friday agreement, but the assertion has been heavily criticised by the Labour Party and former Prime Ministers.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted to the Commons last week that the new bill would “break international law” – though said it would only do so “in a very specific and limited way”.