Raab embarks on US mission while PM hints at Brexit bill compromise

Published by Scott Challinor on September 16th 2020, 8:08am

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has travelled to Washington D.C. to reassure US politicians about the Internal Market Bill.

Some US politicians are concerned about the plans to hand Westminster the power to override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement and what that will mean for the Northern Ireland peace process.

Raab will meet with the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who said last week that if the Northern Ireland peace deal was undermined, there would be no chance of a UK-US trade deal being approved by Congress.

Downing Street has insisted that the Good Friday Agreement will not be compromised in any way.

The Internal Market Bill was approved by MPs at its first reading in the House of Commons on Monday and will now be scrutinised further. It will also need to be approved by the House of Lords, where it is likely to face further obstacles.

The legislation would breach international law if ever invoked, which caused concern among US figureheads, but Raab is expected to push the case that the plans are only intended as a fail-safe option in response to what ministers say is a threat from the EU to blockade food imports.

During his visit, Raab will also meet with US foreign secretary Mike Pompeo, amid a row over the UN’s blocking of further sanctions on Iran.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph has reported that prime minister Boris Johnson has hinted at a possible compromise on the Internal Market Bill.

Johnson met several senior MPs remotely before Monday’s vote on the legislation in the Commons, and assured them that he would act on the concerns they had raised.

With more Tory MPs reportedly threatening to abstain among those who opted to do so during Monday’s vote, the PM is reported to have held “constructive talks”, hinting that the government will back down and rewrite some of the more contentious elements of the legislation.

Chair of the Commons Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill, is among the rebel MPs who took part at the meeting. He has tabled an amendment to the bill which would prevent the government from invoking the bill and breaching international law without the consent of Parliament.

Amid the ongoing row over the bill, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said that UK must not follow through on altering the Withdrawal Agreement by approving the Internal Market Bill if a trade deal is to be agreed.

She said: "This Withdrawal Agreement took three years to negotiate and we worked relentlessly on it line-by-line, word-by-word, and together we succeeded.

"The European Union and the UK jointly agreed that it was the best and only way for ensuring peace on the island of Ireland and we will never backtrack on that.

"This agreement has been ratified by this house and the House of Commons. It cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded, disapplied. This is a matter of law and trust and good faith."

In spite of the public row, the Telegraph has reported that UK chief negotiator Lord Frost will travel to Brussels ahead of schedule to meet with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier on Thursday.

The news has emerged after Reuters reported that the UK has moved to break the deadlock with a "tentative, modest" concession on fisheries and is "moving cautiously toward some opening" on the issue, suggesting that a deal could still be achieved.

Elsewhere, the government has assured that its new freight management system will be ready by the end of the post-Brexit transition period in December.

The new Smart Freight system will ensure that trucks are carrying the correct documentation before they travel to ports, reducing delays and making for easier traffic management around Dover and Kent.

There had been concerns that only a beta version of the new system would be in place by December, but the government now says that it will be fully operational by the end of the year.

Photo by Constantin Wenning on Unsplash

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Authored By

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
September 16th 2020, 8:08am

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