Britain is a nation that has always respected the rule of law. Our international reputation is founded on not only our respect for the rule of law but as being a nation that can be trusted to honour its word. That is why the current mess with the Government intending on breaking international law is so worrying

The virus has changed things. Labour wants to get a Brexit deal and get on with tackling the coronavirus crisis. The government must get on and deliver what they promised – an oven-ready Brexit deal in place for January 1st.  We also firmly believe in the need for a strong internal market so businesses can trade freely across the UK’s four nations, which will be vital for our economy and shared prosperity. 

We are in the middle of a public health emergency and an economic crisis. More and more people are losing their jobs every day. Time is running out on a deal that will see Britain prosper. Now is the time for competence and consensus, so the country can move on and recover.  Instead the Government has introduced legislation that knowingly and openly breaks international law and will frustrate the process of getting a deal.

Labour is absolutely clear that this is not about Leave versus Remain. That debate is over – we left the EU earlier this year. And leading Tory Brexiteers have also criticised the government’s cavalier approach to international law.

This is about Britain’s reputation, not Brexit. Do we want to be a trustworthy nation that stands by its commitments? Do we want to be able to strike good trade deals with other countries? Do we want to be able to take on rogue states when they break international law? And how can stand up to Russia, Iran and China’s rule breaking if we are rule breakers too?

Let’s truly think about what Boris Johnson has been saying – this is an agreement he negotiated and signed himself, and he is now saying it contains serious problems that could break up our country. That’s a monumental admission of failure. Did he not read the deal he signed? When people like me flagged problems with the deal that made me unable to vote for it, why didn’t he listen? Every single south west Conservative MP voted for the withdrawal agreement, did they not read it or did they not understand it?

The Prime Minister has also said there was a “misunderstanding” about the Withdrawal Agreement. That is an out and out lie. The issues of state aid and customs declarations have been explicitly flagged to the government on multiple occasions.

Britain’s greatness is built upon our values and the fact we have long stood up for the rule of law. Boris Johnson wants to throw all that away by disregarding an international treaty he personally negotiated and signed up to, undermining our standing in the world.  

This is not only morally wrong, but incompetent. Breaking our word will do us no favours when it comes to negotiating trade deals with other countries. The US democrats have already said as much. Breaking international law means those we do deals with will demand more oversight, more compliance, bigger penalties in agreements as they won’t be able to trust Britain to keep our word – what an awful indictment of our great nation.

Boris Johnson and his ministers are used to u-turning – but tearing up their own international agreement which they negotiated and sold to the electorate themselves when the ink is barely dry, is a new low that will diminish Britain on the world stage and damage our reputation. A competent government would never have entered into a binding agreement with provisions it intended to go back on.  

The legislation also risks the integrity of the Union by undermining the devolution settlement. The Government has chosen to trump the process of agreeing common frameworks on key devolved matters – like agriculture and food standards.  I am fighting to put Britain’s high food and farming standards in law because I do not trust the Government to stick to its word – and for good reason, look at this current mess.

I cannot vote for a bill that trashes our international reputation, breaks international law and one that would damage the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland. I know there are a lot of people – who backed every party at the last general election – who are aghast at what the Conservatives are doing. With the virus rising, and more and more people disregarding the Government’s chaotic and confusing messages we need Ministers to stick to the law, and show it is not one rule for them and another for everyone else.

There will be a series of votes this week, and possibly next week too. I will keep you informed about progress. As usual Plymouth, please let me know your thoughts.

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