Dean Russell gave a fairly boilerplate set of replies to serious concerns around the Internal Market Bill. Here's my reply.
Hi Dean, thanks for your reply,
I've been considering your response in some detail and think that, respectfully, you may be either unaware or ignoring the history of how the withdrawal agreement came about. I'm also concerned that the importance of ensuring there is no hard border in northern ireland is not properly reflected in your thinking - or the need for the UK to act in good faith on the international stage.
Taking your points in turn;
"Remedying the unintended consequences of the Protocol may breach the Withdrawal Agreement in a limited way but the consequences of inaction could break up the UK.”
I'm sure you agree that Government was advised by civil service that Withdrawal agreement would cause a range of issue in terms of state aid. This was clearly briefed in detail at least once in January (more likely on more occasions than this). It has always been clear that to uphold the letter and spirit of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement the UK would either need to continue a close trading and, topically, regulatory relationship with its nearest neighbours or else accept that in order to avoid a border on the Island of Ireland an FTA would have to be negotiated that involved GB, but - in parts at least - not NI. This was made abundantly clear when the EU offered a CETA type deal to GB but not U.K. in the early days of negotiations, which was roundly rejected. It has never been the position of the EU that the whole of the U.K. would be able to leave on CETA terms without creating a border on Island of Ireland. This was understood and accepted by HMG. Years ago.
"I hope you understand that while I remain fully committed to international law, I have a duty to protect the integrity of the Union – the overriding purpose of this Bill. "
I'm afraid you're creating a oxymoron; you cannot claim to remain fully committed to international law if you are voting to break international law, or even empower ministers to be able to. It is a philosophic and political absurdity. I'm convinced you must know that to be the case.
"The European Union has not acted in good faith always themselves throughout these negotiations and since the Withdrawal Agreement was passed, the UK has been forced into a situation whereby it must protect its sovereignty and the Union. "
While the EU have not always acted in the UK's best interests as far as I'm aware they have never proposed the breaking of international law (unilaterally, no less) and have recently appeared willing to negotiate on elements around state aid and fisheries - which appear to be the primary sticking points. It's really important that you recognise that the withdrawal agreement, and NI Protocol contained as part of that, contains dispute resolution mechanisms for exactly the eventually that the EU does act in bad faith. Under this Government, your Prime Minister and your recent vote the UK has chosen to disregard these mechanisms and has instead unilaterrally threatened to break a bilateral international treaty. This has clearly tarnished the word of future Govenments who wish to or need to negotiate important international agreements in future. It also fundamentally undermines the ability of our Foriegn, Commonwealth and development office and it’s ministers from highlighting abuses of the rule of law abroad, such as China’s repeated abuses of the one nation two systems principle set forth in the agreement over Hong Kong
All of this is also mooted by the simple truth that the Neil amendment simply shifts the flagrant disregard of international law and potential mediation mechanisms from government to parliament. We're still discussing the UK reneging on it's international agreements unilaterally.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the above.
Dean Russell's reply in full:
Thank you for your email. It is lovely to hear from you. I hope you and yours are keeping well at this difficult time. I hope my response below covers your different question.
Remedying the unintended consequences of the Protocol may breach the Withdrawal Agreement in a limited way but the consequences of inaction could break up the UK. I hope you understand that while I remain fully committed to international law, I have a duty to protect the integrity of the Union – the overriding purpose of this Bill. The European Union has not acted in good faith always themselves throughout these negotiations and since the Withdrawal Agreement was passed, the UK has been forced into a situation whereby it must protect its sovereignty and the Union. I share your belief in British integrity.
With regard to the provisions on the Northern Ireland Protocol, you should know that the Protocol contains inconsistencies that the UK and EU had intended to resolve by the end of the year. The end of the Transition Period is fast approaching, and with no agreement yet reached, the Government has proposed a safety net to protect the Union and ensure that the UK’s obligations under the Belfast Agreement are met. We must deliver on our promises to the people of Northern Ireland and this Bill allows us to do so.
After listening to concerns in Parliament, the Government has tabled an amendment to the Bill which would require the approval of Parliament before ministers could use the powers under sections 42, 43 and 45. For this and the reasons mentioned above, I do not support the removal of these parts of the Bill. It is important to understand that it is not new for Parliament to consider legislation that could override treaty obligations. This is because the UK’s constitutional settlement provides for Parliament alone to decide whether and how to implement the UK’s treaty obligations. You may remember that this principle was upheld by the Supreme Court in the Miller Case on invoking Article 50 in 2017.
I believe that Britain’s word remains trusted and respected across the world. No, I do not encourage the breaking of laws as you will know but this Bill doesn’t do so unless a no-deal occurs. Ian, the UK Internal Markets Bill is a safety net for our Union. I believe strongly that a deal can be reached- something the EU Commissioner herself suggested last week.