LONDON -- The British government on Monday won over some domestic political opponents of its plan to breach part of the Brexit divorce deal it agreed upon with the European Union — but not former Prime Minister Theresa May, who warned that the move would do “untold damage” to the U.K.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative administration has sparked anger from the EU and unease from many British lawmakers with legislation that gives his government the power to override part of the legally binding Brexit withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland.
The government says the Internal Market Bill is an insurance policy to guarantee goods can flow freely to all parts of the U.K. in case Britain and the EU fail to reach a trade agreement and the bloc tries to disrupt trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country.
On Monday, the British government agreed to amend the bill to give lawmakers a vote before the override powers can be used. That was enough for some Conservatives who had previously opposed the bill but said they would now vote for it.
But May, who was the country's Conservative prime minister between 2016 and 2019, said the government was acting “recklessly and irresponsibly, with no thought for the long-term impact on the standing of the United Kingdom in the world.”
May struck a divorce deal with the EU in 2018 after two years of painstaking negotiations. She resigned last year after repeatedly failing to get Parliament to approve it.
“This is a country that upholds the rule of law,” she said. “It is one of the things that makes us great. It is one of our characteristics. … Yet we’re being asked to tear up that principle and throw away that value.”
Referring to one of Johnson’s catchphrases, she said: “So much for Global Britain.”
Johnson's government hopes to shepherd the bill through Parliament and into law in the coming weeks. The EU says it will take legal action if the U.K. does not drop the lawbreaking provisions by the end of September.
Northern Ireland has special status in the withdrawal agreement because it is the only part of the U.K. that shares a land border with an EU country.
Johnson’s move to break parts of the EU divorce deal relating to Northern Ireland has triggered fears it could undermine the 1998 Good Friday peace accord that ended decades of violence between Irish nationalists and British unionists.
Britain and the EU jointly promised in the Brexit divorce agreement to ensure there are no customs posts or other obstacles on the Northern Ireland-Ireland border. The open border is key to the stability that underpins the peace settlement.
The British government insists it is committed to upholding the EU withdrawal agreement and the peace accord. But many, including May, have warned that the proposed law could destabilize the peace settlement.
Follow all developments on Brexit trade talks at https://apnews.com/Brexit.