WATCH: Government “wrong” to break law on Brexit deal, says Starmer

Elliot Chappell

Keir Starmer has declared that the government is “wrong” to propose breaking international law on Brexit and that a “good deal is there to be had and the Prime Minister needs to get on and negotiate it”.

In an interview with Sky News this afternoon, the Labour leader was asked about the controversial comment made by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis that the government intends to breach its legal obligations.

Asked whether it is Labour’s position to support rejoining the EU, Starmer said: “I don’t think there’s a case for reopening the issue of membership of the EU. We have left… We need to get the deal and we need to move on.”

Commenting on Lewis’ remarks in parliament today, the leader said: “What the government’s proposing is wrong. I think that’s plain for everybody to see. But we need to take a step back here and focus on getting a deal.

He added: “Getting a deal is in the national interest. That’s what the public want – that’s what they were promised. The outstanding issues are not difficult, they can be resolved.

“Let’s get the deal, let’s move on and focus on the job at hand, which is dealing with this pandemic.”

The Labour leader also added that the proposal to break the international law from the government could be a tactic to gain leverage in the negotiations. The former director of public prosecutions added: “That’s wrong in principle.”

Responding to an urgent question tabled by Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh this afternoon, government minister Lewis defended reports of plans to give British ministers unilateral powers in the region.

Following a question from a backbench Tory colleague, the Secretary of State admitted that the clauses providing ministers with certain powers under the new legislation would breach international obligations.

He said: “Yes, this does break international law in a specific and very limited way. We are taking the power to disapply the EU law concept of direct effect required by article four in certain very tightly defined circumstances.”

According to leaked reports, aspects of legislation being introduced into parliament in the coming days and weeks would “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement” – including state aid and Northern Ireland customs.

Under the withdrawal agreement, Northern Ireland is set to remain in the single market regardless of whether the wider UK has a deal on trade and security with the EU by the end of the year.

If the UK does not reach an agreement on trade with the European bloc, the EU’s codes on goods coming into Northern Ireland will still be required, necessitating checks at the border.

The internal markets bill seeks to narrowly define the obligation to notify Brussels of subsidy decisions for it to approve and could dispense with the requirement for local businesses to file customs paperwork when exporting to the rest of the UK.

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