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Kent MP resigns as special envoy on freedom of religion or belief in protest over Internal Market Bill

A Kent MP has resigned as special envoy on freedom of religion or belief in protest at the Prime Minster's plans to override the Brexit deal.

The House will debate the Internal Market Bill, which the government has admitted breaks international law, later today and a vote is expected at about 10pm.

Rehman Chishti. Stock picture
Rehman Chishti. Stock picture

Conservative MP Rehman Chishti tweeted earlier that he had written to Boris Johnson to resign in protest over the Bill.

The proposed legislation has prompted a wave of anger both at Westminster and in Brussels over the plan to give ministers the power to alter key elements of the UK's Withdrawal Agreement, which was formally signed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in January.

In his tweet the Gillingham and Rainham MP, he said: "I can’t support Internal Market Bill in its current form, which unilaterally break UK’s legal commitments.

"As an MP for 10yrs & former Barrister, values of respecting rule of law & honouring one’s word are dear to me."

In the letter to Boris Johnson he goes on to say he will not be able to support the bill as as a matter of principle.

He added: "I am committed to deliveringBrexit, having campaigned for it and as reflected by my voting record, which matches yours, since the 2016 referendum.

"You will recall I resigned from all party and government positions in November 2018 over the draft Withdrawal Bill due to my concerns over the back stop."

He adds: "I have real concerns with the UK unilaterally breaking its legal commitments under the Withdrawal Agreement.

"During my 10 years in Parliament and before that as a Barrister, I have always acted in a manner which respect the rule of law.

"I feel strongly about keeping the commitments we make; if we give our word, then we must honor it. Voting for this Bill as it currently stands would be contrary to the values, I hold dearest."

Boris Johnson signed the UK's Withdrawal Agreement in January. Stock picture
Boris Johnson signed the UK's Withdrawal Agreement in January. Stock picture

The government has already admitted the bill could breach international law, but has insisted it is "critical" to ensuring the unfettered access for goods from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK.

Elsewhere in the county, Craig Mackinlay MP for South Thanet spoke out about the issue and is backing the Bill.

He said: “The new argument is that the Internal Markets Bill breaks international law. This is truly risible.

"Let us consider the backdrop - the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 was the codification into UK law of the terms of the agreement reached with the EU including the Northern Ireland Protocol and Political Declaration.

"That Bill made its way through Westminster swiftly and smoothly.

Craig Mackinley. Picture: Copyright: KPA
Craig Mackinley. Picture: Copyright: KPA

"The treaty is a lengthy document by any measure but, as accepted by the EU, it confirms that Northern Ireland is part of the UK’s customs territory, and concerns itself, not unreasonably, that the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market must be respected, but crucially the document requires ‘best endeavours’ by both sides to replace the agreement with a new arrangement (a free trade deal) by 31st December 2020.

"The Internal Market Bill seeks to address - to simply allow the functioning of our Union of the UK, all allowed for under the Treaty.

"The new powers the Bill gives Ministers is a ‘use if necessary’ power and nothing more.

"Additionally section 38 of the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 states clearly that our Parliament is sovereign: a position that does not normally need to be stated by any normal independent country.

“None of this is odd, strange or lawbreaking.

'I’m standing firm to deliver Brexit and will stand up to bullies...'

"In its Free Trade Agreement with Canada, the EU did not demand control over Canada’s hugely valuable fishing grounds nor control over their internal taxation rates or seek to control trade between Ontario and Manitoba.

"I’m standing firm to deliver Brexit and will stand up to bullies.”

But Sir Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet feel totally different about the Bill.

Speaking earlier to Sky, he said: "You can't be a little big pregnant - you can't say we are going to break the international rules, but only a little bit.

"You either adhere to the rules or you don't.

Sir Roger Gale. Stock picture
Sir Roger Gale. Stock picture

"First of all the Prime Minister back in January signed this document and agreement with the consent of the European parties and with the consent of the House of Commons, and declared it to be a huge success and a great achievement.

"If that's not the case, he should have said so then and if he wants to change it now, then that's fine provided he does so with the agreement of the other parties concerned, but you cannot just tear up an international agreement and expect anybody at any time in the future to have any faith with any of it.

""We are an honorable country and we behave honorably, we keep our understandings and agreements and for me, this is entirely a matter of principle."

Helen Grant MP for Maidstone and the Weald is supporting the bill.

She said: "It will be with significant reservations, grounded in my entrenched belief in the Rule of Law, that I will be voting in favour of the Internal Market Bill at Second Reading this evening.

Helen Grant MP. Picture: UK Parliament
Helen Grant MP. Picture: UK Parliament

"We are amidst crucial trade negotiations with the EU, who themselves are seeking to impose unconscionable terms upon our Sovereign State and threaten the integrity of our Union.

"Their hardball approach must be met in equal measure if we are to emerge from Brexit with a fair arrangement.

"I therefore remain focused on supporting the government’s negotiation stance to secure a free trade deal with our European partners, protect our economic interests, and thereby ensure that the safety net provisions in this Bill never need be deployed."

And former prime minister David Cameron also has"misgivings" about the government's plan to override the UK's Brexit withdrawal deal.

The vote is expected to be at 10pm.

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

How is Brexit going to affect Kent? For all the latest news, views and analysis visit our dedicated page here.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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