Trust the EU in Boris

How Boris Johnson plans a breach of the law with an announcement at Brexit

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pushing ahead with plans to undermine the exit agreement with the EU. The UK government on Wednesday released the Internal Market Bill, a bill that would regulate the four-nation internal market within the UK. This draft provides for parts of the exit agreement to be made "inapplicable", which is to say: The validity of the divorce treaty ratified by the House of Commons this January will be annulled in certain areas. Affected is the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol of the Divorce Treaty, which regulates how the Northern Irish province can remain part of the EU internal market.

Who still trusts the British?

When asked whether the bill would constitute a violation of international law, Northern Ireland Minister Brandon Lewis responded bluntly in the House of Commons on Tuesday: "Yes, it violates international law." In front of horrified MPs, including within the ruling faction, Lewis said that this breach of contract only happened "in a very specific and limited way."

Of course, this could be said of every violation of the law. Pacta sunt servanda is a principle of international law: Treaties must be observed. Former Prime Minister Theresa May put it in a nutshell when she asked in the House of Commons: How can Britain still be trusted to honor the legal obligations it signs?

Lord Kerr, former British Ambassador to Washington, commented sharply: "Tearing up treaties is what rogue states do." In Great Britain and Brussels one is now wondering whether Boris Johnson really wants to put the kingdom on this course.

The Internal Market Bill is still just a draft and not a law - and it may not be if enough conservatives in the government faction oppose it. Observers think it is possible that the British government is not about a change of policy, but about posing: You want to look as tough as possible and rattle your saber.

Not extensive, but ...

In terms of substance, the planned changes are not very extensive. The draft law aims to suspend the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement in two areas. The aim is to prevent Northern Irish companies from having to create so-called exit summary declarations for goods that are going from the Irish island to Great Britain. In addition, the exit agreement stipulates that Great Britain must inform the EU about which state aid it wants to provide for companies that could affect the Northern Irish goods market. This obligation to provide information is to be severely restricted. Of course, the issue of state aid is a sticking point in the ongoing negotiations. The EU wants guarantees, which London has so far refused, that Great Britain will not distort the market through its subsidy policy. An advertised breach of contract can only lead to a further loss of trust. Johnson may speculate that in times of the coronavirus pandemic, legalistic skirmishes with the EU are of little concern to the UK public.

Constitutional breach rewarded

In addition, Johnson may have been encouraged by an earlier violation: last fall, he had dissolved parliament on his own initiative, which the courts later ruled as a breach of the constitution. In the election campaign that followed, however, the British voters did not punish him, but gave him a clear majority in December.

It is ironic that Johnson won the elections because he promised the British an exit agreement, which he now intends to partially annul. His justification for doing this because he wanted to take precautions in the event of a no deal does not apply at all. In the event that no trade agreement is reached, the Northern Ireland Protocol served as reassurance for the EU.

However, Johnson is more likely to be more correct in his fear that there could be a no deal at the end of the year. According to insiders from Downing Street, the chances of an agreement in the Brexit negotiations are now less than 30 percent. (Jochen Wittmann from London, 9.9.2020)