Among the voices raised in opposition to the Internal Market Bill, one voice is missing, that of the trade unions and their members, ordinary workers and for good reason. For one thing they have more important things to do like getting the economy going and keeping people in work. They also know that agreements reflects the relative strength of the two opposing sides.
In a situation when unemployment is high and union organization is weak, the balance of forces favours the employer and workers have to accept an inferior pay and conditions settlement. When the union gets its act together, strengthens its organization and with fewer people looking for work, it invariably tears up the previous agreement and demand a better one. International treaties are no different. They also reflect the balance of forces at the time.
The concept of sovereignty itself is enshrined in international law.
In the most extreme cases treaties are imposed on counties such as the treaties between China and various Western powers, Russia, and the Empire of Japan during the 19th and early 20th centuries following military defeat the Qing dynasty. They were unilaterally repudiated by both the Kuomintang and the Communist party. The nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 was considered by some to be a ’violation’ of international law and leaving the military and economic Baghdad Pact with Great Britain following the 1958 revolution in Iraq was certainly a ‘breach’. In fact, none of these countries were in breach of international law; they were merely asserting their sovereignty. The concept of sovereignty itself is enshrined in international law.
It has always been the case that countries coming out of colonial rule were forced to accept treaty obligations that maintained some the privileges that the colonial power enjoyed before independence. For instance, the Évian Accords comprising the 1962 treaty between the French government and the Algerian national liberation front, FLN which established Algeria’s independence contained articles that linked the fate of Algeria to France by allowing the French to maintain military bases in Algeria, enabling the settlers to keep their privileges, and giving French companies the right to exploit the country’s wealth. At the time, the FLN sought advice from Cuba’s Fidel Castro. He is reported telling a special envoy ‘agree to anything and once you’re independent, you can do what you like’.
Negotiations with the EU is not that dissimilar to those the colonial powers had with their colonies before independence. The Withdrawal Agreement which paved the way to the UK leaving the EU was a vehicle for the EU to continue to have a say in the internal affairs of the UK after the latter has left the European Union.
When the Withdrawal Agreement was signed, the UK was a member of the European Union. It lacked sovereignty. It was attempting to leave the EU and regain its independence. The EU was refusing to reach an amicable divorce unless the UK signed the Withdrawal Agreement which included elements that impinges on the sovereignty of the UK. At home, the government faced a second hurdle: a hostile parliament determined to wreck Brexit, an equally hostile anti-Brexit media and a well-funded campaign for a second referendum not mention Labour reneging on its promise to respect the result of the referendum. Had the government refused to sign the Withdrawal Agreement, Parliament, which had already ruled out a no-deal departure, would have legislated for a second referendum.
The balance of forces was in favour of the EU. If Brexit was to happen and the will of the people respected, the Withdrawal Agreement must be signed. Had Fidel Castro been alive and his advice sought, he would’ve certainly said ‘get Brexit done. You can do anything you like after’.
Following the 2019 general election, the remainers were routed and a new government was elected with a large majority and a clear single mandate: take back control. A few weeks later, on Jan 31 the UK left the EU; it became a sovereign nation again. The balance of forces with the EU shifted decidedly in our favour.
But the sovereignty we craved was compromised by the very instrument that made it possible. The Withdrawal Agreement allowed the EU to keep some of the powers it had before Brexit including the power to determine the level of state aid and enforce tariffs on goods moving within the UK.
No self-respecting independent nation can allow a foreign power to have a say in the movement of goods within its own borders or decide which state aid is permissible. The government is not only entitled to amend these offending terms, it would be a dereliction of its duty if it failed to do so.
The remainer elite is fond of denigrating the Internal Market Bill calling it ‘law-breaking’. It is no more ‘law-breaking’ than the Abortion Bill or the Border Control Bill are. All bills that go in front of parliament are law-breaking; their purpose is to change the law and therefore, by definition, are ‘law-breaking’. As for the loss of trust, treaties are not based on trust otherwise there would be no need for countless clauses, sub-clauses and sub-sub-clauses or for lawyers to pour over every phrase, every word and every dot and comma; a simple handshake would suffice.
And as if to prove the point, a joint statement by the TUC, and its counterparts in Australia and New Zealand calling for transparency and consultation with trade unions on trade deals published on September 21 makes no mention of the Internal Market Bill that is supposed to have turned the UK into a rogue state that no civilized nation would want to do business with. Furthermore, Japan concluded a trade deal with the UK a few days after the bill was introduced.
The Internal Market Bill asserts what other countries take for granted: the rights of a British government over the UK internal market and rejects attempts by the EU to limit state aid and enforce EU competition terms within Britain. Those who oppose it are effectively saying that it would be better for our internal market procedures, state aid and competition rules to be directed by the EU, an unelected and unaccountable body over which we have no influence than it is by a an elected government that we can directly influence and change if we chose to do so.