Conservative Progress: The Internal Market Bill is essential, and what all governments should do

The Government’s Internal Market Bill triggered both uncontrolled outrage and wild claims that Britain will have the status of a pariah state. Instead, I believe the Bill is simply a reasonable and essential step for the Government to take in response to the EU.

It has become crystal clear, ever since this country voted to leave, that the EU would not act with the constructive spirit we would expect: that they would not treat the United Kingdom as an independent country with equal basis in negotiations, as it has with other countries. As Boris stated, unless the EU choses to “negotiate seriously” with a “fundamental change of approach”, the country has no option but to pursue a departure deal more like Australia’s, based on simple principles of global free trade.

In the 2016 referendum, this country decided to say ‘No’ to the project of ever closer integration and this was reinforced by last year’s resounding General Election result. In spite of this, Brussels has continually attempted to override the British position and trap us in its orbit. For those of us that made the case for Brexit, we believe in the value of a sovereign and independent national policy.

The Bill’s announcement saw the return of the usual past leaders to tell the Government that it was committing great damage to Britain’s status. But all the Government has done is to take a reasonable step and maintain its sovereignty, and reject vassalage. It upholds the principle in Article 4 of the Northern Ireland Protocol that “Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom”. Without the Bill, trade across this Union of nations would be severely limited. No sovereign country could possibly accept this.

No Government of a sovereign country could possibly accept duties being charged on goods across its own territory. The EU refusal to even define in practical terms what would classify goods going to Northern Ireland as “at risk” is evidence of their determination to subvert British sovereignty.

The Bill is also a reflection on the EU’s failure to negotiate in “good faith”. When we passed the Withdrawal Agreement, the PM believed the EU would engage in talks with the hope of cementing a positive future as sovereign neighbours. Yet as we have seen, the EU’s continued resistance to a mutually-beneficially Free Trade Agreement means that a No Deal would be our only available option. This Bill simply makes provision for that. If we did not, Northern Ireland would remain subject to the EU’s customs laws and procedures; it would remain subject to large portions of its internal market laws- all enforced by the EU Court of Justice. EU rules on state aid would also apply and allow the EU to impose its state aid regime on any UK domestic policy. This is in no sense reasonable.

We chose to say “no” to further integration in 2016, and even four years later our friends in Brussels haven’t understood that. While we are happy to trade freely with them, we don’t want to be ruled by the ECJ, we want our fishermen to have full access to our waters, and we don’t want our future to still be determined by unelected EU bureaucrats. This Bill is reasonable in solving these problems and, moreover, it is essential.

It is essential in upholding our international obligation of the Good Friday Agreement. The Conservative and Unionist Party will always work to prevent a hard border between North Ireland and the mainland of Britain, which are part of the same country. This Bill maintains the precious peace and historic Union in the face of EU determination.

Moreover, the Bill is necessary is taking steps to prevent the considerable disruption we are warned about in event of a No Deal. Critics should be relieved that, given the EU’s clear decision not to engage in “good faith” with a Free Trade Agreement, this Government is legislating to ensure continuity, stability and prevent that disruption. This is the action of a responsible government that wants to deliver on its electoral pledge and provide stability.

Forget the broken yesteryear records of John Major and Tony Blair: this Bill is an essential step to maintain the Union and do what all governments should do. It is a legal safety net since it has become clear that the EU has not met its own obligation to decide on a tariff-free Free Trade Agreement.

Ultimately, we have seen time and time again that naked political considerations, most of all the EU’s desire to make a lesson of the UK for the remaining nation states has determined and dictated the EU’s negotiating position. At the helm of Britain’s negotiations is a team that knows exactly what Brexit means. It will not fall for Theresa May’s strategy that allowed Britain to be a laughing stock for the world.