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Former Labour MP Baroness Hoey said she was “surprised and indeed shocked at some of the ignorance that has been spoken” about the Belfast Agreement, which heralded the ending of decades of violence in Northern Ireland and paved the way for powersharing. The pro-Brexit non-affiliated peer, who is from Northern Ireland, argued opponents of Brexit had used the peace accord “to try and make it more difficult for the Government”.
Lady Hoey said: “I believe that the way in which the fears of a hard border were deliberately escalated meant that the EU was delighted.
“I have no trust whatsoever in the good faith of the EU on this issue and I think quite rightly the Government has to be one step ahead.
“To take out these clauses now would be a further stab in the back on the people of Northern Ireland.”
Peers moved to strip controversial clauses from the UK Internal Market Bill that would enable ministers to break international law.
The Lords voted 433 to 165, majority 268, to reject law-breaking powers after fierce criticism by Tory former leader Michael Howard and Tory ex-chancellor Ken Clarke.
The Government immediately responded by insisting it would not back down.
A Government spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the House of Lords has voted to remove clauses from the UK Internal Market Bill, which was backed in the House of Commons by 340 votes to 256 and delivers on a clear Conservative manifesto commitment.
“We will re-table these clauses when the Bill returns to the Commons.
“We’ve been consistently clear that the clauses represent a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market and the huge gains of the peace process.
“We expect the House of Lords to recognise that we have an obligation to the people of Northern Ireland to make sure they continue to have unfettered access to the UK under all circumstances.”
Peers went on to inflict a further defeat on the Government by 407 votes to 148, majority 259, stripping out a further contentious clause relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
All other controversial provisions were removed without votes.
Labour’s leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Angela Smith said: “I am sure some in government will initially react with bravado and try to dismiss tonight’s historic votes in the Lords. To do so, however, would underestimate the genuine and serious concerns across the UK and beyond about ministers putting themselves above and beyond the rule of law.
“The Government should see sense, accept the removal of these offending clauses, and start to rebuild our international reputation.”
The move came after Tory former prime minister Sir John Major said the Government’s plan to override key elements of the Brexit deal hurt Britain’s global reputation.
Sir John condemned Mr Johnson’s position, insisting it was “unprecedented in all our history – and for good reason”.
Sir John said the UK Internal Market Bill, which ministers have admitted will breach international law, had “damaged our reputation around the world”.
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Asked about the Lords votes, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told BBC2’s Newsnight the UK Government’s stance had “undermined trust”.
He said: “It is not a surprise to us as an Irish government that the Internal Market Bill, or part five of the Internal Market Bill, is essentially being rejected by the House of Lords.
“And, it’s as controversial a piece of legislation as it seems, within the UK as it is outside of the UK.”
Mr Coveney added: “Effectively, what the Prime Minister is proposing to do with this legislation is to deliberately threaten to break international law by passing domestic legislation which effectively says if the EU doesn’t give us what we want in the negotiations around the implementation of the withdrawal agreement, and, in particular, the protocol on Northern Ireland and Ireland, well, then we are going to legislate to give British ministers the powers to do what they want to do anyway.
“And that has been a tactic that really has undermined trust in these negotiations.”
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