How Boris Johnson headed off a Brexit rebellion

PM agrees compromise with Tory critics of controversial bill that will break international law

Boris Johnson Downing Street
(Image credit: BEN STANSALL/AFP)

Downing Street has brokered a deal with Conservative MPs who balked at Boris Johnson’s plans to effectively break international law by overriding parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The prime minister has agreed to amend the UK Internal Market Bill to allow MPs a vote before the government could activate powers in the legislation to override the EU divorce deal - a move that “could stave off a possible rebellion over the issue”, says the BBC.

MPs are now gearing up to vote next week on the amendment, put forward by the Tory chair of the Justice Select Committee, MP Bob Neill, with the backing of former work and pensions secretary Damian Green.

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In a joint statement with No. 10 last night, Green said: “Following talks, it is agreed that the parliamentary procedure suggested by some colleagues provides a clearer, more explicit democratic mandate for the use of these powers, and also provides more legal certainty.”

The compromise comes after 30 Conservative MPs, including former chancellor Sajid Javid and ex-attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox, abstained from the first vote on the Internal Market Bill. A further two voted against the bill, while Scotland’s Advocate General Lord Keen and top legal civil servant Jonathan Jones have both resigned in protest against the PM’s Brexit plans.

Despite the opposition, however, “Johnson’s sizeable majority meant the UK internal market bill passed with a comfortable cushion of 77 votes on Monday night”, by 340 votes to 263, says The Guardian.

But Downing Street is eager to secure the support of the Tory rebels for a second amendment that sources say will narrow any judicial review timeframe to three months in order to prevent “endless litigation”, according to Politico’s London Playbook.

Over in Brussels, the reaction to the Tory pact has been mixed. An EU source told the Financial Times that Brussels would like Johnson to remove all of the offending powers from the bill, not “put them in an ‘emergency use only box that MPs can unseal at a moment’s notice”.

Others see it differently. “It is still in every EU nation’s interest to find an agreement,” a “senior EU27 source” told Politico, suggesting that the bloc’s negotiating team would be willing to “close one eye” in order to keep the prospect of a Brexit deal on the table.

Earlier this month, Johnson said that if a deal was not reached by the European Council meeting on 15 October, both sides should “move on” - meaning the UK would go on to trade with the bloc on international trading terms.

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