Robert Buckland hints at Brexit compromise to win over Tory rebels

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland hints Boris WILL back down to Tory Brexit rebels and give MPs a say on plans to tear up EU divorce bill

  • Dominic Raab is in Washington and will meet Nancy Pelosi for talks on Brexit
  • Foreign Secretary is expected to try to assuage US concerns over Brexit plans
  • US politicians said no trade deal if Northern Ireland peace process is harmed
  • Justice Secretary Robert Buckland today hinted Government could compromise
  • Said he believed plans can be made ‘acceptable to all Conservative colleagues’
  • Government facing Tory rebellion over plans to tear up parts of EU divorce deal

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland today hinted the Government could strike a compromise with Tory rebels over its plans to tear up parts of the Brexit divorce deal. 

Ministers have admitted Boris Johnson’s proposals to override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement would break international law, sparking a rebellion by Conservative backbenchers. 

The rebels want Parliament to have the ability to veto any move by the Prime Minister to depart from the accord agreed with the EU last year – a so-called ‘parliamentary lock’. 

Mr Buckland said this morning he believed the original plans could be made ‘acceptable to all Conservative colleagues’ in a sign that ministers are willing to shift on the issue to win over their Tory critics. 

His comments came as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab prepares to meet US Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington today to assuage her Brexit concerns. 

Ms Pelosi said last week there would be ‘absolutely no chance’ of Congress passing an American trade deal with the UK if the PM’s Brexit plans ‘imperilled’ the Good Friday Agreement.

Meanwhile, a group of four senior US congressmen have written to Mr Johnson to express a similar sentiment as they urged him to ‘abandon’ any proposals which could undermine the peace process. 

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland today hinted the Government could compromise on its Brexit plans to win over Tory rebels

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is in Washington today for talks with US counterpart Mike Pompeo and US Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Brexit expected to feature heavily

Ms Pelosi warned last week there will be no US/UK trade deal if the Government’s Brexit plans jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement

The Government sparked a furious row with the EU after it published its UK Internal Market Bill last week.

The legislation will enable the UK to unilaterally make decisions on key issues, like customs arrangements between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, contained within the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Brussels is adamant that the decisions must be made by a joint committee made up of people from both sides – as set out in the treaty.

But the Government argues its new proposals are necessary in order to protect the integrity of the UK should the two sides be unable to agree terms. 

Tory rebels have put forward an amendment to the legislation which would create a ‘parliamentary lock’ on any attempt by the Government to try to depart from the Brexit divorce deal. 

A vote on the amendment is scheduled to take place next Tuesday but Mr Buckland today suggested the Government could move on the issue in order to stop the rebellion. 

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think that the issue is this. We want to make sure that if we hit a situation where we have this sort of dislocation, this sort of crisis if you like, that we can act swiftly to bring in to power the necessary regulations.

‘I think that whilst actually we have got parliamentary procedures to allow secondary legislation to come into force with debate and scrutiny, we have got to get the balance right.

‘We want to make sure that we are fleet of foot when it comes to the crunch but at the same time to make sure that MPs have their say.

‘That is what the Prime Minister wants, that is what he said in parliament and I am sure we will find a way to do that in a manner that is acceptable to all Conservative colleagues.’ 

Mr Buckland also stressed the provisions within the UK Internal Market Bill which would allow Britain to override the Withdrawal Agreement and breach international law would only be used if the EU breached its Brexit obligations first.

He told Sky News: ‘If we reach that stage, the reason for it is because we judge that sadly, despite everybody’s best efforts, the EU is in a position where we think they are actually breaching their obligations to us.’ 

He said the controversial powers were effectively a ‘break glass in case of emergency provision’ and would only be used in the event other resolution mechanisms like the joint committee failed to resolve disagreements between the UK and EU. 

He did not deny that he has held talks with Tory rebel leader Bob Neill, the chairman of the Justice Select Committee. 

‘I don’t think it would be right of me to start talking about private conversations,’ he said. 

The tone of Mr Buckland’s comments is in stark contrast to Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis’s blunt admission last week that the Government’s plans will ‘break international law in a very specific and limited way’.

It came as Mr Raab tries to assuage concerns in the US over the Government’s Brexit proposals. 

The Foreign Secretary is due to meet with Ms Pelosi as well as his counterpart Mike Pompeo. 

Last week Ms Pelosi warned the UK there would be no trade deal with Washington if Britain undermined the Good Friday Agreement.

She said: ‘If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.’        

Meanwhile, four senior US congressmen, led by chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel, have written to Mr Johnson urging the Government to respect its open border and peace process with Northern Ireland.

The letter, which was also signed by Mr Engel’s fellow Democrats Richard Neal and William Keating as well as Republican Peter King, urged the PM to ‘abandon any and all legally questionable and unfair efforts to flout the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement’. 

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