Mr Johnson’s proposed new law has infuriated Eurocrats but also put him at loggerheads with some senior Tories over concerns it breaks international law. Lord Keen, the government’s law officer for Scotland, quit after clashing with a Cabinet minister about the legislation despite attempts to persuade him to remain in post.
The PM offered extra powers that would give MPs more oversight of any attempt to change the divorce deal yesterday to curb a growing Conservative revolt over the proposals contained in the Internal Markets Bill.
Around 30 of his backbenchers led by Sir Bob Neill, the chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, were demanding extra Parliamentary checks.
Sir Bob and Damian Green, the chairman of the One Nation group of Tories, welcomed the changes the government is planning to make to the bill.
In a statement, they added: “There is near-unanimous agreement that the Government must be able to use these powers as a final resort, that there must be legal certainty, and that no further amendments are required on these powers.”
Damian Green, the chairman of the One Nation group of Tories
All living former prime ministers – May, Cameron, Blair, Brown and Major – have criticised threats to tear up the divorce deal, which is now a treaty.
But Mr Johnson defended the move when he appeared before the liaison committee of senior MPs yesterday.
The PM insisted he has “enormous respect” for his predecessors but “it is the duty of the UK Prime Minister to protect the integrity of the UK against any extreme and irrational, unreasonable, interpretation of the protocol”.
Securing a trade deal with Brussels is still possible, he insisted.
A no-deal scenario was “not what this country wants” and “it’s not what our EU friends and partners want from us”.
“Therefore I have every hope and expectation that that won’t be the outcome.”
But asked whether he believed the EU was acting in good faith, Mr Johnson said: “I don’t believe they are.
“It’s always possible that I am mistaken and perhaps they will prove my suspicions wrong.”
The PM said the Internal Market Bill – which could be used to effectively tear up parts of the Brexit deal and break international law – provides a “belt and braces protection” against “extreme interpretations of the protocol” relating to Northern Ireland by Brussels.
He has accused the EU of holding out the possibility of blockading food and agriculture transports to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
“The objective of these measures is to protect this country against accidental or unreasonable measures that break up or serve to break up our UK,” he added.
Mr Johnson insisted flow of food supplies to the UK in the event of a “basic no-deal” will not face major disruption.
“I’m confident that we will be able to keep things flowing smoothly at the border, or as smoothly as we possibly can,” he said.
Lord Keen had offered his resignation to Mr Johnson yesterday morning but faced attempts to persuade him to stay for most of the day.
When the PM appeared before MPs in the afternoon he was unable to say whether the Advocate General for Scotland was still a member of the Government.
“As far as I know, conversations on that matter are continuing,” he said.
Around two hours later, Downing Street confirmed Lord Keen had resigned.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis
A spokesman said: “Lord Keen has resigned as Advocate General for Scotland.
“The Prime Minister thanks him for his service.”
Lord Keen’s resignation came after Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis appeared to directly contradict comments he made in the House of Lords.
On Tuesday, Lord Keen told peers that the Bill did not “constitute a breach of international law or of the rule of law”.
He said Mr Lewis had “answered the wrong question” when he said the proposals to override elements of the Brexit divorce deal relating to Northern Ireland would break international law in a “specific and limited way”.
But Mr Lewis said yesterday he stood by his original answer – which was “absolutely in line” with the legal advice issued by Attorney General Suella Braverman.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is visiting Washington, told US congressional leaders that the EU’s “politicisation” of the Northern Ireland issue in trade talks with the UK is threatening the Good Friday Agreement.
The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has warned Congress will never pass a free trade agreement with the UK if legislation to override the Brexit divorce settlement was to “imperil” the peace process.
Mr Raab said he had made clear the UK’s “absolute” commitment to the peace deal.
“It is a great opportunity to be clear that the threat to the Good Friday Agreement as it is reflected in the Northern Ireland protocol comes from the EU’s politicisation of the issue, and to be clear on how that has happened and why that has happened,” he said following talks with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
“The UK action here is defensive in relation to what the EU is doing, it is precautionary, we haven’t done any of this yet, and it is proportionate.
“What we cannot have is the EU seeking to erect a regulatory border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Britain.”