I've read this BBC news story in full, but I'm still confused what the UK government is planning to do. It seems it concerns the Northern Ireland Protocol, but the specifics are unclear:

No 10 revealed on Monday that it would be introducing a new UK Internal Market Bill that could affect post-Brexit customs and trade rules in Northern Ireland.

Downing Street said it would only make "minor clarifications in extremely specific areas" - but it worried some in Brussels and Westminster that it could see the government try to change the withdrawal agreement, which became international law when the UK left the EU in January. [...]

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis conceded it would go against the treaty in a "specific and limited way". [...]

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney, called Mr Lewis' comments "gravely concerning", adding: "Any unilateral departure from the terms of the withdrawal agreement would be a matter of considerable concern and a very serious step." [...]

That may suggest, says Catherine Barnard, Professor of Law at the University of Cambridge, that the [UK] government is looking at Article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which enables a state to get out of its treaty obligations when circumstances change radically.

So I guess we don't know the exact text yet, but do we know in any detail in what respects is the UK planning to depart from the (previously agreed) Northern Ireland Protocol? And in what circumstances? (I'm guessing it is going to happen if negotiations on the trade agreement fail by October 15, so the UK government is probably using these pending changes as a bargaining chip, but what specific aspects of the Protocol are being [re]bargained?)

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    I think we will have to wait until tomorrow when the bill is published before we can answer this.
    – Joe C
    Sep 8, 2020 at 20:21
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    @JoeW: Well, the UK's government did admit it, in the words of Lewis it "break international law in a very specific and limited way". The q had some longer quotes, but some people objected to that (comments deleted in the meantime). Sep 8, 2020 at 21:01
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    @phoog - the same thing that happens to any country that knowingly and wilfully violates an international agreement. Other countries take note of it and don't trust that country (or at least the govt of that country) again. Sep 9, 2020 at 6:20
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    @JoeW the UK has not made any overtures regarding negotiation. A bilateral agreement can't be changed unilaterally. When one party to an agreement acts contrary to the agreement, that's called "breaking the agreement."
    – phoog
    Sep 9, 2020 at 13:11
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    BBC summary, in lieu of an answer: bbc.co.uk/news/54088596 Sep 9, 2020 at 16:08

1 Answer 1


Thank to Steve Melnikoff for pointing out this more recent BBC summary, which also links to the actual bill. In nutshell, what I gather from there, the Internal Market Bill will allow UK ministers to:

  • overrule the requirement for UK business to fill out export declaration forms for products shipped to Northern Ireland (article 42)
  • interpret state aid rules (for NI) not in accordance with case law of the European Court of Justice (article 43.3.d)

All of these seemingly contra the agreed NI Protocol with EU. The BBC also says this:

If there is no agreement between the two sides, then the default position is tariffs would have to be paid on all goods.

But the UK has plans, which could be introduced in a finance bill later this year, to allow UK ministers to make unilateral decisions on which goods are "at risk".

So I'm guessing that is not a provision in this bill, but related enough.

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    There's some further details and opinion in this article from the UK Constitutional Law Association. Sep 10, 2020 at 9:28
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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but what I understand from the BBC summary and the bill's article 42 is that the broken requirement is for business to fill out forms for products shipped FROM Nothern Ireland TO Great Britain.
    – Wasabi
    Sep 10, 2020 at 18:38

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