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The government has today (9 September) published proposed legislation that would breach international law and could jeopardise UK hopes of securing trade deals with the EU and the US if passed. 

The Internal Market Bill would override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol. The latter was signed by the UK and the EU at the end of last year and confirmed the UK’s departure from the bloc. 

Addressing the House of Commons yesterday, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted the bill breaks international law but only in a “very specific and limited way”. 

Johnson defends bill 

In parliament today, the prime minister defended the bill saying it was “about protecting jobs, protecting growth and ensuring the fluidity and safety of our internal market”.  

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions and responding to claims that the bill was a threat to devolutionary government powers, Johnson said: “We will press on with this bill ...attacks on it are nonsensical. It is a massive devolutionary act [that] also ensures the integrity of the UK internal market.”  

'Clarifying elements of NI Protocol’ 

The new bill proposes to more narrowly define how the UK notifies the EU on subsidies for Northern Irish industries and would remove the requirement for firms in the region to complete exit declarations to send goods to Great Britain. 

On Monday the government said it is not looking to ignore the Withdrawal Agreement but is instead “taking limited and reasonable steps to clarify specific elements”. 

EU response 

The EU’s chief negotiator for the bloc’s future trade relationship with the UK said he was “worried” when reports of the bill initially emerged on Sunday evening.  

He said the UK must respect its previous international agreements, saying this “underpins confidence going forwards”. 

It has also been reported that EU diplomats are losing trust in the UK because of the legislation and the breakdown in the talks. 

Would it endanger a US deal? 

Leading US Democrats have also claimed the UK’s failure to respect international agreements – particularly relating to Northern Ireland – would affect the prospects of a UK-US free trade deal. 

One US-UK relations expert said that Presidential candidate Joe Biden had a “red line” about Northern Ireland and protecting the Good Friday Agreement, of which the US is a guarantor.