Boris Johnson told Tory MPs today that a proposed bill that contravenes international law is “absolutely vital” to prevent the “break up of our country”.
The PM made the comments to Conservative politicians via video link as he discussed the contentious UK Internal Markets Bill.
Mr Johnson says the legislation, which will override parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, is needed to end EU threats to install a “blockade” in the Irish Sea and to “stop a foreign power from breaking up our country.”
The Prime Minister said Brussels could “carve up our country” and “seriously endanger peace and stability” in Northern Ireland if Conservative MPs rebel to block his Bill.
The all-hands virtual meeting was called as backbench resistance to his plans threatened to grow into a full scale revolt.
But the video conference call was plagued by technical issues, with the Prime Minister’s connection dropping out entirely at one point, leaving around 250 MPs waiting for him to rejoin the call.
And he told MPs there would be no time for them to ask questions at the meeting.
Mr Johnson, also writing in The Telegraph, said: “We are now hearing that unless we agree to the EU’s terms, the EU will use an extreme interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol to impose a full-scale trade border down the Irish sea.
“We are being told that the EU will not only impose tariffs on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but that they might actually stop the transport of food products from GB to NI.
“I have to say that we never seriously believed that the EU would be willing to use a Treaty, negotiated in good faith, to blockade one part of the UK, to cut it off; or that they would actually threaten to destroy the economic and territorial integrity of the UK.”
He said “in the last few weeks” he learned his negotiators had discovered there “may be a serious misunderstanding about the terms” of the Withdrawal Agreement he signed in October.
Mr Johnson argued it was agreed during “torrid” days with the deadline for a deal fast approaching while “negotiating with one hand tied behind our back” because Parliament blocked a no-deal.
“If we fail to pass this Bill, or if we weaken its protections, then we will in fact reduce the chances of getting that Canada-style deal,” he wrote,
“Let’s remove this danger to the very fabric of the United Kingdom.
“Let’s make the EU take their threats off the table.
“And let’s get this Bill through, back up our negotiators, and protect our country.”
Earlier, the PM’s official spokesman said he planned to use the call to “reiterate the UK’s commitment to implementing the Northern Ireland protocol and the joint committee process with the hope that an agreement remains possible within that framework.
“But he will also be setting out that as a responsible government we must provide a safety net which removes any ambiguity and ensures that the government can always deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.”
But there was strong disagreement from senior figures in the party yesterday, with Lord Howard becoming the third Conservative former party leader to criticise Mr Johnson’s plans as he accused the Government of damaging the UK’s “reputation for probity and respect for the rule of the law”.
“How can we reproach Russia or China or Iran when their conduct falls below internationally accepted standards, when we are are showing such scant regard for our treaty obligations?” he told the House of Lords.
Leaders in the European Parliament said they would “under no circumstances ratify” any trade deal reached if “UK authorities breach or threaten to breach” the Withdrawal Agreement.
Mr Johnson appeared not to have ended the disquiet within his party during the call, with senior backbencher Sir Bob Neill saying he was not reassured by the speech.
Sir Bob, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee and is tabling an amendment to the Bill which he says would impose a “parliamentary lock” on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, said he still contends it contains “objectionable” elements.
“I believe it is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward,” he told Channel 4 News.