The Lords really don’t like the Internal Market Bill. The Lords with legal backgrounds and the Bishops are clearly not keen on the government breaking international law. Lord Judge, an ex-Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales, put forward the ‘regret motion’ that peers overwhelmingly passed by a majority of 226.
As the report from the Lords' Constitutional Committee said about the law and this government: “Society cannot afford to take this principle for granted or acquiesce in its violation. The rule of law is essential to an open and democratic society and the institutions which embody and protect it. Any Government that seeks to secure widespread compliance with the law must itself adhere to it”.
I loved hearing the tough speeches from Tory Lords like Michael Howard and Ken Clarke. With 100+ speakers, there were only a few who supported the Minister in defending the Bill. They tried to justify it as being about parliamentary sovereignty, but Parliament recently voted for the Boris deal that had been sold to people at the general election and which this Bill tries to unpick. They argue that this is about defending the Good Friday Agreement, while giving Ministers the power (in clauses 44 and 45) to by-pass Parliament in modifying or disapplying the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Internal Market Bill is part of the government’s executive power grab and the main losers will be the devolved nations and regions. This is where the real impacts will be felt.
Greener UK points to the example of the three items listed in the “plastics ban” belatedly introduced in England. The Welsh Government is proposing to introduce a ban on the sale of nine single-use plastic items. Under the Internal Market Bill, Wales could only ban the production of these in Wales, while sale of the items made elsewhere in the UK would be forcibly allowed by this legislation. The Welsh Government has said: “a ban that could only apply to Welsh-produced plastics would undermine the policy and render it ineffective”.
The Westminster Parliament has the power to pass legislation that reverses devolution and violates international laws and agreements, but there will be consequences if it does. Our neighbours won’t trust us and Northern Ireland will start to dominate our headlines for all the wrong reasons. If this Bill cannot be sufficiently amended, then the Lords must act as guardians of the constitution by rejecting the Bill in its entirety.