Boris Johnson has partially climbed down on his controversial new Brexit bill in the face of a Tory rebellion.
Downing Street offered a compromise to try and win over the dozens of Conservatives who abstained or voted against the draft legislation that would override the withdrawal agreement – breaking international law.
The prime minister has promised to give MPs another vote before any of the powers are used, as long as they pass the Internal Market Bill when it is due to complete its Commons journey next week.
A statement was released “following talks” between Number 10 and disgruntled backbenchers, agreeing that the amendment will provide a “clearer, more explicit democratic mandate for the use of these powers”.
And ministers have agreed to another amendment that “sets clear limits on the scope and timeliness of judicial review” of the bill.
But it came too late to stop the resignation of a justice minister, Lord Keen, who is the third government figure to quit over the issue – after the head of the government legal department and a special envoy.
And Labour’s shadow attorney general, Lord Falconer, said the concession “doesn’t remedy the breaches of international law which arise from the bill”, adding: “Honestly it’s getting worse not better.”
Earlier, Mr Johnson accused Brussels of not acting in “good faith” during trade negotiations.
Asked if he thought the EU was, he said “I don’t believe that” – flatly contradicting Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, whose answer to the same question earlier was “yes”.
Before the U-turn, Mr Johnson said his approach was only “protection” against “extreme interpretations” of the part of the divorce deal concerning Northern Ireland.
He was supported by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said during a news conference: “I trust the UK… I have great confidence that they will get this right in a way that treats everyone fairly.”
But Mr Johnson had been scorned by senior US Democrats threatening to block a US trade deal if the UK did break international law.
Presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted on Wednesday night: “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit.
“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”
We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit.
Any trade deal between the U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period. https://t.co/Ecu9jPrcHL
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 16, 2020
Following a meeting with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “The Good Friday Agreement is the bedrock of peace in Northern Ireland and a beacon of hope for peace-loving people throughout the whole world.
“Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday Agreement – the stability brought by the seamless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.
“In our meeting today with the foreign secretary, [Ways And Means Committee] chairman Richie Neal and I welcomed his assurances but reiterated the same message that we delivered to the leaders of the UK in London last year: if the UK violates its international agreements and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.
“The Good Friday Agreement is valued by the American people and will continue to be proudly defended in the United States Congress.”
Meanwhile, the EU had threatened legal action and said it could threaten ongoing trade talks with the bloc.
Mr Johnson sought to play down the prospect there will be no-deal to replace the existing trading arrangements that will expire at the end of 2020 when the transition period runs out.
He said that was “not what this country wants” and added: “I have every hope and expectation that that won’t be the outcome.”
Brussels has not yet responded to the latest move by Downing Street.
Analysis: This move won’t totally quell disharmony with EU
By Adam Parsons, Europe correspondent
The EU has been vociferous in its anger about the Internal Market Bill. This concession may mollify that slightly, but the disharmony won’t go away.
The withdrawal agreement is seen as an absolutely fundamental document and any threat to it will continue to set off some very loud alarm bells.
The prime minister commands such a large parliamentary majority that some in Brussels think this safeguard is, to an extent meaningless – that if he calls a vote, he’ll win it.
The flip side is that Brussels diplomats can now see that their fears and uncertainty are, to an extent, being mirrored in Westminster.
But until details are clear – particularly about the movement of goods – then this will remain a very contentious point. Trust in the UK is running low.
— to news.sky.com