Prime Minister Boris Johnson is looking to override the withdrawal agreement in a move that could lead to a no deal Brexit. The Internal Market Bill, published on Wednesday, addresses the Northern Ireland Protocol – an element of the withdrawal agreement designed to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland. The bill seeks to give powers to UK ministers so they can modify or “disapply” rules relating to the movement of goods – Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted this week that this could break international law. Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the Government on Sky News this morning.
He said: “What we are saying is, this isn’t about if we implement them (terms of withdrawal agreement) it’s about how we implement them.”
He added that “the withdrawal agreement was signed at pace, and there were ambiguities”.
It comes after months of stalled talks, as the EU and the UK fail to compromise on other issues such as fisheries, trade and regulatory alignment.
State aid rules is another issue which has contributed to the stalemate in Brexit trade talks as a no deal scenario looks ever more likely.
Since the treaty of Rome in 1957, member states have been banned from giving companies or industries special help that would distort competition. Governments cannot hand out subsidies, tax rebates or take stakes in companies “unless it is justified by reasons of general economic development”.
Some claim the UK is looking to bend these rules as it looks to invest in new technologies.
Matthew Lesh, the Head of Research at right wing think tank the Adam Smith Institute, warned this week that the Prime Minister would be making a “huge mistake”.
He added that “Britain is on the verge of punching herself in the face in order to have the freedom to shoot herself in the foot”.
Mr Lesh highlighted that Business Secretary Alok Sharma said recently that the UK would maintain flexibility to “intervene to protect jobs and to support new and emerging industries now and into the future”.
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“Bureaucrats lack the knowledge and skills to pick sound investments, and since they are spending other people’s money, they also lack the incentive to get it right.”
Mr Lesh added in his CapX column that there is a risk with this approach of ministers “frittering away taxpayers’ money”.
He also argued against a “disruptive” no deal Brexit.
He concluded: “Brexiteers may be tempted to take a belligerent ‘No Deal’ path to get out of the European Union, but the real priority is making Brexit a success.”