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Johnson's lawbreaking Brexit bill passes first Commons hurdle

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Mr Johnson may face more rebellion as the bill passes through the Commons.

London

UK PRIME Minister Boris Johnson's plan to renege on part of the Brexit divorce deal passed its first hurdle in Parliament late on Monday after a bruising debate in which senior members of his own party denounced the move.

The House of Commons passed the Internal Market Bill by 340 to 263 in its first main vote, allowing it to go through to the next stage in the parliamentary process on Tuesday.

The prime minister said the proposed legislation, which will rewrite part of the Withdrawal Agreement, is "essential" to maintain the UK's economic and political integrity. He accused the European Union of making "absurd" threats to stop food moving from mainland Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

"The EU hasn't taken that particular revolver off the table," Mr Johnson told MPs. "It is such an extraordinary threat, and it seems so incredible the EU could do this, that we are not taking powers in this bill to neutralise that threat, but obviously reserve the right to do so if these threats persist."

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Mr Johnson's decision to rip up part of an international agreement he signed less than a year ago has already pitched the Brexit negotiations into turmoil. The EU has threatened legal action and called on him to withdraw the bill by the end of the month. Pressing on risks jeopardising efforts to secure a trade deal with the bloc before the Brexit transition period expires at the end of the year.

While the prime minister had a comfortable majority in Monday night's vote, with only two Tories voting against him for now and others abstaining, there will be opportunities for further rebellions as the bill passes through the Commons. Mr Johnson will then face a bigger obstacle in the House of Lords, where Tory grandees including former leader Michael Howard have denounced the legislation and could delay its progress.

Lawmakers on both sides of the House of Commons said the government's admission that the proposed legislation would breach international law will weaken Britain's place in the world and hobble its attempts to call other countries - including Russia, China and Zimbabwe - to account.

"Britain has been a beacon in some very difficult places of the world for support for the rule of law, and our support is relied upon," former Tory International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said. "We have a duty to uphold the rule of law." BLOOMBERG

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