British lawmakers vote to reinstate controversial section of bill

LONDON — British lawmakers have voted to reinstate a controversial section of a bill that could allow them to break international law after Prime Minister announced he will travel to Brussels to break a deadlock in post-Brexit negotiations.

On Monday evening, 357 lawmakers voted in favor of putting an amendment back into its Internal Market Bill that would override a section of the Brexit divorce deal, known as the Withdrawal Agreement. A total of 268 lawmakers voted against it, giving the winning votes a majority of 89.

This means that the bill will now be sent back to Parliament’s unelected house, the House of Lords, in what is known as a “ping pong,” where the two houses do not agree on changes being made to a bill.

The Internal Market Bill, a provisional law outlining trade deals within the four United Kingdom nations after the post-Brexit transition period runs out, angered European Union officials when it was published in September.

The House of Lords subsequently voted to remove the sections of the bill after critics warned trying to break the Withdrawal Agreement would erode trust with the EU and other partners.

The bill outlined powers to make rules about state aid and customs procedures for trade from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, which would break the Withdrawal Agreement reached between London and the EU. Each amendment that was taken out by the House of Lords was added back in by lawmakers on Monday evening.

But in anticipation of the amendments being added back in, and in an apparent concession, the British government said on Monday afternoon it was prepared to remove some clauses to comply with the withdrawal agreement of the two sides.

“If the solutions being considered in those discussions are agreed, the UK Government would be prepared to remove clause 44 of the UK Internal Market Bill, concerning export declarations,” the statement said.

“The UK Government would also be prepared to deactivate clauses 45 and 47, concerning state aid, such that they could be used only when consistent with the United Kingdom’s rights and obligations under international law,” it added.

Hours before the vote, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Johnson said in a joint statement that no movement had been made in the ongoing differences on “critical issues” when discussing a trade deal — meaning a face to face meeting in Brussels will now happen in “the coming days.”

A British spokesperson confirmed that Johnson would travel to Brussels to join the meeting. A commission spokesperson said it remained to be confirmed who else would attend.

Since last week, there have been an intensive few days of discussions over future trade negotiations between Britain and Brussels.

After chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart, David Frost, called for a break in negotiations on Friday due to a lack of progress, von der Leyen and Johnson instructed them to continue their talks in Brussels.

But despite talks on the highest political level, progress continued to be stalled on Monday.

Finding a way to create a level playing field for competing businesses and seeking deals on fisheries and governance remain the key areas of disagreement, Barnier told EU ambassadors on Monday.

A senior British government source echoed the assessment and said that talks were in the same position as they were on Friday — when a break had been called.

Britain formally left the European Union at the end of January, but remains in the single market and customs union until the end of the year. If there is no deal by this deadline, the harshest of tariffs and cumbersome custom checks would be reimposed.

(Frodsham reported from London and Kijewski from Brussels.)

(c)2020 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany)

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