The head of one of London’s leading business groups has launched a searing attack on the government’s controversial Internal Market Bill, saying its provisions for allowing the UK to alter parts of the EU withdrawal agreement “undermine our ability to promote London as the core global location for the fair, impartial and constant application of the law” and threaten a “basic principle that underpins all business, trade and commerce throughout the world – my word is my bond”.
Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said the presence in the Bill of measures a minister has admitted would break international law daily make it harder for businesses “to strike reliable contracts” and told the government “this must stop now”.
His comments came in a statement issued yesterday evening as disquiet grew among Conservative MPs and peers over the Bill, which envisages the UK allowing itself to undo parts of the withdrawal agreement relating to post-Brexit customs and trade rules in Northern Ireland.
Burge recognised the difficulty of the ongoing trade deal negotiations with the EU – which are being led for the government by his predecessor at the LCCI, David Frost – and characterised the EU approach as “prepared to sacrifice compromise and reasonable agreement” in pursuing “a unilateral, ideological goal”. But he expressed dismay that “the UK, the most mature democracy of them all, might even consider disregarding its own core principles”.
Describing the City of London, where the LCCI is based, as the “origin” of trust being the basis of effective business, he said the principle mirrors cornerstone values of “peace and the pursuit of prosperity across the world – that we obey international law and we fulfil the obligations of treaties into which we have freely entered. It is on this basis that we defend these values and seek to alleviate poverty and fear”.
He added: “Ultimately, we are prepared to send our daughters and sons to war in defence of these principles. Parliament is sovereign but it is not unconstrained. Independent nations remain free because they agree to be bound by the rules of the world.”
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