Earlier this week MPs voted on a controversial new government bill. The UK is currently in a transition period that keeps it tied to EU rules until December 31. The two sides are trying to negotiate a new trade deal that would take effect once that period ends, but the talks have continued to be characterized by a perpetual stalemate.
With less than five weeks to go, the government is essentially seeking to prevent the disruption of trade between the UK’s four nations if no deal is reached with the EU.
Downing Street described the Internal Market Bill as a “vital legal safety net”.
However, this decision enraged Brussels and caused a new rebellion within the Conservative Party.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has set Prime Minister Boris Johnson a three-week deadline to abandon plans or face financial and trade sanctions, with the clear suggestion that talks over a future relationship will fail unless the more controversial parts of the proposed legislation are removed.
Speaking yesterday in Brussels, Ms von der Leyen said: “It took three years to negotiate this Withdrawal Agreement and we worked tirelessly on it, line by line, word by word. And together we succeeded. And the result guarantees our citizens’ rights, interests, the integrity of the single market and, above all, the Good Friday Agreement.
“The EU and the UK have jointly agreed that this is the best and only way to secure peace on the island of Ireland. We will never go back on this. This agreement was ratified by this Assembly and by the House of Commons.
“It cannot be changed, ignored or ignored unilaterally. It is a matter of law, trust and good faith.”
While it is true that if Mr Johnson goes ahead with his plan, Britain would essentially be breaking international law – a recent report by Steven Barrett, a trade chancery lawyer, reveals how Germany has also recently violated international law but suffered no consequences.
Earlier this month, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that the European Central Bank’s (ECB) government asset purchase program was ultra vires, meaning it was acting beyond its legal power.
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Mr Barrett wrote in a column for the Spectator: “What matters for our purposes now is that the EU has taken no action to sanction or reprimand Germany.
“Certainly, no legal action has been taken against them.
“Germany did not change its constitution accordingly, it maintained its position in law.
“That makes it important as a matter of law, not just as a matter of policy.”
The lawyer explained that the case was that Germany, with its irrefutable commitment to international law, had concluded on principle that it could overturn international law (violate it), if an obligation of international law required the Germany to do something that was a fundamental violation of its constitution.
He noted: “Now it’s not the same as the other arguments and it’s not politics.
“It comes down to our practice of law.
“For 800 years, faced with a new legal problem, we have looked to previous cases to find the legal solution.
“When looking for past cases to copy it’s normal to look to other countries – in my area involving complex money/trust/equity issues we often look to Australia .
“It’s true to say that we don’t look to civil law courts, which Germany is, quite often. But I don’t see anything wrong in principle with looking to Germany for advice on how the UK should both best respect international law and protect our constitution.
“These issues you see are about constitutional law. They are about how the UK deals with its own constitution – about how we behave in relation to international law. We haven’t looked at these issues since some time.”
Mr Barrett concluded by saying that if Britain were to find a legal solution, then turning to an established Western democracy that “has spent more time and effort building it up” might be the best course.
In practice, he added, this would mean that, like Germany, the UK will respect international law in principle, but break international law if it fundamentally conflicts with its constitution.