Theresa May was away last week so she didn’t have to take part in the vote on the Internal Market Bill, which contain the controversial Northern Ireland clauses that disapply parts of the Withdrawal Agreement. But in a speech just now, May has made explicit her opposition to the bill, declaring: ‘I can’t support this bill.’ She even went as far as to question how any minister could walk through the division lobby in support of it.
May accused the government of acting ‘recklessly and irresponsibly’ and doing ‘untold damage’ to the UK’s international reputation with its willingness to ‘renege’ on the agreement that it has signed. She also added that it was putting the ‘integrity of the UK at risk’.
May’s opposition to the bill will not alarm many of Boris Johnson’s supporters in the country. But it does further complicate the parliamentary situation for No. 10. For instance, would it really be credible to threaten the removal of the whip from the rebels when their number includes the last Tory leader and Prime Minister? What's more, May voting against the bill will revive one of the media’s favourite storylines of the last 30 odd years — Tories split over Europe.
May’s speech today is another reminder of what a mistake it was for the government to declare so baldly that it was planning to break international law, albeit in a ‘specific and limited way’. It would have been far better for the government to have gone for a solution to these issues that it could have legally defended.