Opposition to law-breaking internal market bill grows among Tory MPs

© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor
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Over the weekend, outrage grew in response to the government’s internal market bill that proposes breaking international law. All five living former Prime Ministers have now expressed concern, to varying degrees, about Boris Johnson’s plan, with Tony Blair and John Major teaming up to describe the UK’s negotiating style as “irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice”. More importantly, current Tory MPs have become increasingly vocal about their opposition to the bill. Geoffrey Cox, Attorney General at the start of the year, has accused Johnson of damaging the UK’s reputation and announced that he will be abstaining from the vote. ConservativeHome has advised all Conservative MPs to vote against the bill.

On his media round this morning, Ed Miliband said: “We’ve got to stand up for the rule of law.” Yet Labour’s messaging has otherwise continued to focus not on the law-breaking aspect of the bill, but instead on the need to be sensible, secure a Brexit deal and move on – particularly amid a pandemic. (An approach that has attracted internal criticism, for example from Margaret Hodge.) To get this across in the strongest way possible, Keir Starmer has simply nicked the Tories’ 2019 “get Brexit done” slogan and sought to use it against Johnson. He has suggested that Labour could back the bill – though only if “substantial cross-party concerns” are addressed.

The Labour leader’s framing obscures the fact that, as Andrew Marr pointed out, there wouldn’t be much of a bill to vote for if the devolved powers parts and Northern Ireland Protocol parts were taken out. The “get Brexit done” stuff might annoy some Remainers, but ultimately the party will vote against the internal market bill at its second reading in the House of Commons today. It is set to pass this stage. Labour is not yet saying whether it will support amendments such as that tabled by Bob Neill, which would give parliament a veto on overriding the withdrawal agreement. There are concerns that it is not robust enough, and the opposition will want to see the lay of the land, in terms of Tory rebels, by the time MPs are faced with it next week.

The other big news item of the day is that the ‘rule of six’ has been implemented. The details of these fresh restrictions were published late last night – less than half an hour before they came into force. It is no surprise that they can’t get a huge and complex test and trace system to work. Home Office minister Kit Malthouse has advised people to contact the police if they think neighbours are breaking the new rules, so clearly we should all have been reading up on the complicated and often vague exceptions at midnight. Or this thread by barrister Adam Wagner gives a useful overview.

TUC Congress 2020 begins today. Addressing the conference, general secretary Frances O’Grady will warn that “we face a tsunami of job losses” without further government intervention and will challenge the Chancellor personally to “stand by working families – don’t walk away”. Her keynote speech will be delivered at 11am this morning, and Starmer will speak at the same time tomorrow. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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