MPs have backed the prime minister’s highly controversial Internal Market Bill despite a growing rebellion against the government within Tory ranks.
The bill that empowers the government to override parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement saw 340 MPs back Boris Johnson, with 263 voting against on Monday night.
Johnson has an 80 majority but the nature of his proposal has caused such alarm within his own party that the number of Tory rebels is expected to grow and thereby threaten the bill’s progress through parliament.
Ex-PMs and top Tories voice opposition to Johnson’s Bill
All five former prime ministers – John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May – have criticised the bill for its blatant breaking of international law and the damage it will cause to the UK’s reputation, standing and global authority.
Former chancellor Sajid Javid added his name to the list of senior Conservative MPs opposed to Johnson’s bill – unless it is amended – and their numbers have been given further weight with former attorney generals Sir Geoffrey Cox and Jeremy Wright expressing their opposition to it.
Current justice secretary Robert Buckland is said to “wobbly” about his support for the bill, according to a government source quoted by the Guardian, who add Buckland has “asked for additional cabinet scrutiny of a controversial clause of the bill.”
So far 18 Conservative MPs – including 10 former ministers, five of whom served in the cabinet – and several Tory Lords have publicly opposed the bill. The numbers include five former Tory leaders, with one, Lord [William] Hague, writing in Tuesday’s Telegraph that international law is “not some abstract concept”.
Growing concern for Downing Street
Despite the opposition from his own side, Johnson’s bill passed on Monday night with a 77 majority. However, next week is when the real extent of the rebellion is expected to muster with opponents set to back an amendment to the bill to give the Commons the final say on whether the Withdrawal Agreement is broken.
The Telegraph reports “growing concern” in Downing Street has seen the prime minister, the solicitor general and the chief whip all making calls to rebel Tory MPs as government whips work “behind the scenes…to try and find a compromise that would satisfy the rebels.”
Sir Bob Neill, Conservative MP, chair of the justice committee and barrister has emerged as the leader of the rebels and his amendment aims to add a “parliamentary lock” to give MPs the power of the final say.
“I’m confident that support is growing,” said Neill, before Monday night’s vote and ahead of next week’s crucial reading (September 22) when his amendment will be tabled.