Theresa May has called Boris Johnson’s patriotism into question as she declared she will not support his bid to override the Northern Ireland protocol which he agreed with the EU as part of his Brexit withdrawal deal in 2019.
In a scathing intervention in the House of Commons, the former prime minister said that legislation put forward unilaterally by the government would breach international law, and would lose the UK the respect of countries elsewhere in the world.
And she told MPs she did not believe Mr Johnson’s controversial plan would solve the problems created by his decision to draw a customs border down the Irish Sea with his Brexit deal – something which she previously said “no UK prime minister could ever agree to”.
Speaking to MPs, Ms May said “as a patriot” she could not back a course of action which would diminish the UK’s standing in the world – and then accused the PM’s plan of doing exactly that.
And she questioned whether the EU would in any case take his threats seriously after he narrowly survived a confidence vote among his own MPs, saying that European leaders will now be asking themselves, “Is it really worth negotiating with these people in government, because will they actually be there for any period of time?”
Her comments mark the highest-profile assault from within his own party on Mr Johnson’s plan, which would effectively tear up his Brexit agreement with Brussels and risk a trade war with the EU.
MPs voted 295 to 221, majority 74, to give the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill a second reading on Monday evening, clearing the way for it to undergo detailed scrutiny in the coming weeks.
Speaking in the Commons ahead of the vote, Ms May told MPs: “The UK’s standing in the world – our ability to convene and encourage others in the defence of our shared values – depends on the respect others have for us as a country, a country that keeps its word and displays those shared values in its actions.
“As a patriot, I would not want to do anything that would diminish this country in the eyes of the world.
“I have to say to the government, this bill is not in my view legal in international law, it will not achieve its aims, and it will diminish the standing of the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world, and I cannot support it.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill has sparked outrage in Brussels and Dublin by threatening to set aside key features of the agreement negotiated and signed by Mr Johnson in 2019 and then presented to voters as an “oven-ready deal” in that year’s general election.
It would lift customs checks on goods from mainland Britain arriving for sale in Northern Ireland, end the harmonisation of the province’s VAT with the rest of the EU single market of which it still forms part, and remove the European Court of Justice from any role in arbritrating on disputes over the border.
But foreign secretary Liz Truss insisted that the government’s plans were legal, citing the internationally recognised “doctrine of necessity” which allows countries to bypass elements in treaties in cases of emergency where no other option is available to them.
Citing unionist parties’…